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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 6 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 36
Beer essentials - You don't need to be inebriated to love Drinking Buddies
Arts & Entertainment
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Beer essentials - You don't need to be inebriated to love Drinking Buddies

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

DRINKING BUDDIES
SIFF THEATRE
Opens September 6


Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work together at a small independent craft brewery in Chicago. They're the best of friends, and in a perfect word they'd probably be dating. But she's seeing the erudite Chris (Ron Livingston) and he's in a long-term relationship with outgoing, vivacious Jill (Anna Kendrick), so whatever feelings they might have for one another are going to have to remain in check. But that's difficult when the four of them head off into the woods for a weekend together, spending time in Chris's cabin away from the world at large with no cares other than those they bring with them.

Reminiscent in many ways of old Hollywood multi-couple dramatic comedy classics like Carnal Knowledge and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies is without question the independent filmmaker's most confident and self-assured effort yet. The man behind the Greta Gerwig vehicle Hannah Takes the Stairs has outdone himself, the writer/director crafting characters who feel honest and given them dialogue that sparkles with imaginative authenticity. This is a movie, much like Frances Ha (which, coincidentally, features Gerwig in a breakout role), reminiscent in many ways of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, a kindred spirit to Woody Allen enterprises like Husbands and Wives and Hannah and Her Sisters, is as delightful as it is thought-provoking, as humorous as it is emotionally pure, and as such it becomes one of August's must-see enterprises audiences looking for something more owe it to themselves to seek out.

Not that this isn't familiar stuff. Kate and Luke's relationship follows an astonishingly familiar pattern, the mistakes and missteps they make not remotely surprising. I've seen much of this before, numerous times, and while the settings might be a little different and the antics relatively inspired I still knew where the majority was headed nearly every step of the way.

KEEPING IT REAL
Funny thing, I'm just fine with that. The reasons are simple: I believed in Kate, Luke, Chris, and Jill as people, not as cinematic constructs, and as such I was more than willing to follow them no matter how obvious the path they were on turned out to be. There's a naturalistic give and take between them all that's never forced, rarely obnoxious and almost never false, everything they say or do having an inherent truthfulness that makes all that's happening feel like it's actually taking place.

It helps considerably all the actors are excellent, especially Wilde and Kendrick. As good as Johnson and Livingston are, as nicely as they develop chemistry with both of their co-stars, this is a film for the ladies and to say both actresses run wild with the opportunities they've been granted would be understating the case considerably. Wilde, in particular, makes the most of all of this, crafting a character who is intensely likeable yet equally flawed. It's a self-effacing performance, one that doesn't shy away from Kate's more narcissistic qualities. At the same time she's intensely welcoming, making her easy to warm to and welcome into one's heart in all the best ways imaginable.

Swanberg's direction is devoid of the cynical whirligigs that marred many of his earlier efforts (or, at least the one's I've seen - his films, save Hannah Takes the Stairs, aren't exactly easy to track down), and as such relating to the characters he's created is easier than it's ever been. There is also a fluidity to the filmmaking that's refreshingly sparse, the director allowing the situations and the people traveling through them speak for themselves thus forcing the audience to make up their own minds as to what is going on and why.

Could I say more? Certainly, there are plenty of layers worthy of dissecting and sifting through, not the least of which is the beautiful resolution to Luke and Jill's storyline (at least in the context of this narrative - what happens afterward is up to the viewer to decide). But the glory of Drinking Buddies is in discovering all of its pleasures without too much knowledge as to what is going to happen before going into the theater. This is a very good movie, one Swanberg should be hugely proud of, the finished product signifying his leap from promising talent to bona fide auteur with the happy slamming of a beer glass down upon the tabletop.

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