Drinking Buddies -- a Film Review
Far more amusing than the perfect name implies, the title Drinking Buddies could have been topped only by some variant of Barfly (1987). Beer-fly, maybe?
DB could be the PG version of the scorching relationship takedown film, 2004's Closer. Buddies takes a sudsy stethoscope to the shifting heartbeats between opposite-sex best friends and unfulfilled aspirations and yearnings among live-ins.
Co-workers in a Chicago brewery, Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) lunch together, goof around affectionately, and demonstrate the "before" in anyone's assertion that men and women cannot be just great friends without something else lurking in the un-ideal "after" somewhere. Along with their respective co-habs, the adorable Anna Kendrick and moody hunk Ron Livingston, these couples fluctuate in their commitment to each other, afraid of saying they love their significant other, freaked by the thought of marriage they haven't got the guts to venture into.
The constant ever at flood, however, is their drinking. Kate, especially, and Luke spend their days and nights bingeing more than in any film since The Lost Weekend (1945) or anything starring Mickey Rourke. The ceaseless popping of bottle-caps stops being cute within moments. Fueled by sublimated attraction they express in endless food fights, knuckle sandwiches, and dopey horseplay, they futz around as if they were in 6th grade mixed gym class. They're 'perfect for each other.' Except they're not. They're both in relationships with other people. Luke is avoiding marriage "convo's" with girlfriend Jill (Kendrick) of six years; Kate is noncommittally stocking music producer Chris'es (Livingston) fridge with company brewskis. What blurs the boundary between "friends" and "more than" friends? Beer. A steady, endless pour.
The brewery is a character itself. Like the smashing, immaculate wineries I experienced in the Golan Heights, there are all these story-high shiny vats and sterile equipment, constant attention to scrubbing and hosings-down. All the workers look stoned, sport cool beards and the attitude you'd expect to see in Google or Yahoo rec rooms, and they seem to be the same age, weight, and political coloration. Pahr-tay! time is every lunch and evening after work. An uncredited Jason Sudeikis as the genial director appears briefly. He seems to be the only adult on the scene.
What's interesting is the level of background attention to detail about the brewing process. Then you learn that the film's director, Joe Swanberg, has his own microbrewery. For people sick of violence and gore, the credits list "beer consultants" and about 20 breweries, but aside from scenes of blitzed-out cast members -- especially the excellent Wilde -- there are no special effects, on-screen sex, blue-screen, scatology, or large-object displacements. Instead, some scenes show rare, awkward silences between co-workers and lovers, and a lesson to be accumulated re full-on recognition of the near-alcoholism of the protagonists. The kegs consumed are never remarked upon, but everywhere.
There is one huge "fail": A major character tears his palm to shreds on a nail while helping Kate move. He bleeds like a stuck pig. But the next day, the continuity editor forgot to show him bandaged or favoring a ragged hand. Both hands appear perfect.
That aside, the script is sophisticated and nuanced in the pain of contentious relationships, guilt, the ubiquity of controlling lust that erupts but goes nowhere, jealousy and inchoate longing for... something.
You can't predict where it's going, which sets it apart from most meet-cute flicks. And while some may argue with the implied but unstated alcoholism aborning, as well as the equivocal ending, it is a plummy, chewy movie that neither makes you scratch your head about what's going on nor poke your companion to recap a previous scene. An interesting movie movie.
NB: No hops were hurt in the making of this movie. (And this reviewer has never had a beer in her life.)