Film Review: Olivia Wilde Shines in Joe Swanberg’s Excellent ‘Drinking Buddies’

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CHICAGO – Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” has been billed as the Chicago writer/director’s breakthrough largely due to the star power on display in the cast list but the film works not merely because of the notable talents of its cast but a new maturity and wisdom displayed by its creator. Swanberg’s script is one of the most engaging of the season, filled with smart truths and never underlined in the ways so common to the romantic dramedy genre. Swanberg also displays a new level of ability with performers, drawing great turns from literally everyone in this cast, and finally giving the gorgeous Olivia Wilde the part she’s needed for years. She’s spectacular here. The film’s straddling of independent filmmaking and mainstream comedy may frustrate some looking for more clear-cut answers but Swanberg’s brilliance is in his willingness to navigate the uncertain waters that define so many of our relationships. We all have friends who never turned into more largely due to timing. Most of us have other-sex friends who know us better than our lovers. Few films have found the truth in these dynamics like “Drinking Buddies.” Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson of “New Girl”) work at Revolution Brewing Company in Chicago (where a large portion of the film was shot). They joke around at work, drink and play pool afterwards, casually flirt, but feel like a friendship more than a love affair. Part of the reason that Kate & Luke feel firmly in the “friend zone” is that each of them has significant others. Luke seems to be in the healthier relationship of the two with the sweet Jill (Anna Kendrick) while Kate feels like she’s going through the motions a bit with Chris (Ron Livingston), a man who doesn’t seem to exist in the same social sphere as his girlfriend. Swanberg wisely refuses to present either Jill or Chris as villains. They are not the standard rom-com “enemies,” the blocks to getting our heroes together. They are as real, flawed, and, especially in the case of Jill, as engaging as Kate and Luke.

StarRead Brian Tallerico’s full review of “Drinking Buddies” in our reviews section.

“Drinking Buddies” is a deceptively simple movie in its structure. Kate and Luke introduce each other to their significant others and the film seems like it could be a cross-relationship piece, especially after the two couples go on a trip to a cottage and Jill & Chris begin to flirt with each other and even seem to be a better fit. Swanberg has loftier goals than a simple girlfriend swap piece and “Drinking Buddies” really becomes a great work when those aspirations are revealed about halfway through as he changes the dynamic again.

“Drinking Buddies” stars Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Jason Sudeikis, and Ti West. It was written and directed by Joe Swanberg. It is now available On Demand and opens in Chicago tomorrow, August 23, 2013.

Drinking Buddies
Drinking Buddies
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

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