Foundationally, it’d be easy to write Drinking Buddies off as typical romcom fare, the film’s synopsis lending itself to that of the painfully predictable while admirably powered by stronger-than-average lead performances. Although the latter remains true throughout, Joe Swanberg’s notable if partial shedding of his mumblecore brand is incisively intelligent regarding its intentions and sensibilities, the premise frequently leading us astray as events appealingly unfold.
Working at a brewery, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are no strangers to afforded perks – the daily mastering of their respective crafts often segueing into copious imbibing of the fruit of their labors at a local watering hole. Each dating someone else, Kate and Luke alternately passively and semi-aggresively flirt at frequent intervals while their significant others still remain front-and-center. When an unexpected turn of events produces expected results however, the former’s future remains uncertain as does our interpretation of what’s to come for all involved.
More often than not, Drinking Buddies deftly avoids morphing into a proverbial trainwreck, toying with our perception of key individuals’ mysterious true feelings and intentions as Swanberg competently illustrates them as people and not just hip young caricatures. In fact, the word tense could be used to describe several pivotal moments, a lingering sense of “Does he/she know?!” frequently melding with the burgeoning sexual tension between Kate and Luke succumbing to the law of ever-increasing returns. Coupled with a sense of authentic emotional urgency that’s altogether absent throughout more plentiful lamebrained efforts, Drinking Buddies remains especially gratifying even during a somewhat dark latter-act setup leading into a well-implemented blowup between leads.
As a whole, Drinking Buddies benefits endlessly within the realm of straightforward, convention-defying amiability. Granted, generally romantic scenarios can only present one of two possible outcomes, however Swanberg takes pride in jerking us around by keeping things interesting, involving as such and surprisingly heartfelt. It lightly but effectively touches upon the nuances between love and booze-fueled lust and the importance (and perils) of true friendship, and I for one applaud this film for aptly and believably epitomizing these elements. Even if it doesn’t make a convincing out-and-out statement about human relationships for some, Drinking Buddies is insightful nonetheless and one of the year’s all-around better efforts.