Opens Fri., Sept. 6 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Rated R. 90 minutes.
Workplace romance is always a fraught subject, and the water-cooler flirting that seems so fun at the office can crash into hard reality after happy hour. Working at a Chicago microbrewery, the amiable bearded Luke (Jake Johnson) can afford to kid around with colleague Kate (Olivia Wilde) because both are protected by the firewall of being in a relationship. We’re only kidding about you being so hot and me being so horny, because we go home to someone else—right?
Things aren’t so clear in Luke’s mind, however, and Kate’s relationship with the older, more affluent Chris (Ron Livingston) appears to be shaky. He’s the kind of guy who conspicuously offers books to help improve his girlfriend; worse, he’s not a beer drinker—as are Luke and Kate, by vocation and near-constant thirst. The fourth leg of this stool is schoolteacher Jill (Anna Kendrick), a lot more together and mature than her boyfriend Luke. All four head to Chris’ family’s cabin on Lake Michigan—a weekend trip that portends future decades of married life for the two couples unless some bed-hopping interrupts that fate. Because Drinking Buddies was made by mumblecore director Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs, LOL, etc.), who works fast and frequently on tight budgets, I expected the foursome to stay at that lakefront location and work through their cross-couple sexual stirrings.
Perhaps Swanberg rejects that expectation because we’ve all seen the same movies with similar plots; or more damningly, perhaps he simply doesn’t know how to write an ending for his conventional setup. Kisses are stolen, confidences are broken, and the dramatic crux of the piece involves moving a couch. Maybe that’s life for millennials, but moviegoers expect more for their 10 bucks. Swanberg doesn’t seem to direct scenes so much as simply hang out with his cast. Highly conversational but minimally articulate, lacking any story momentum or serious conflict, Drinking Buddies stalls in its own laxity.
Listed as a producer for the film, Wilde would appear to be using Swanberg as a means to escape her Tron-babe image, and this wide-browed beauty isn’t entirely implausible as a fixie-riding marketing gal who trades on her charm just past the point of ethical behavior. Unlike Chris and Jill, Kate isn’t quite an adult. (About Luke, opinions may vary.) If Drinking Buddies is half-baked (or half-brewed?), so is its heroine.