Sunday, September 8, 2013

Movie Review: Drinking Buddies

Drinking Buddies
Directed by: Joe Swanberg.
Written by: Joe Swanberg.
Starring: Olivia Wilde (Kate), Jake Johnson (Luke), Anna Kendrick (Jill), Ron Livingston (Chris), Ti West (Dave), Jason Sudeikis (Gene Dentler), Mike Brune (Mike), Frank V. Ross (Frank), Jim Cibak (Jim), Alicia Van Couvering (Amy), Joe Swanberg (Angry guy in car), Michael Zeller (Eli).

If you’re like me, you probably spent more time reading about Mumblecore films than actually watching them. These films, which began in 2002 with Andrew Bujalski’s film Funny Ha Ha, are extremely low budget American indie films – most often shot with amateur actors, with largely improvised screenplays, shot on digital video, and most often concern young hipsters navel gazing. Outside of film festivals most of the films barely got released into theaters, but found a cult following on DVD, and later the internet. The films were shot quickly and cheaply, which allowed the directors to make many of them. Some critics championed the films, some despised them, and for the most part, everyone outside their target demographic of other hipsters completed ignored them. The mainstreaming of Mumblecore started a few years ago – Greta Gerwig, a mumblecore staple, moved on to making bigger movies, and her presence have infinitely improved the last two Noah Baumbach films (Greenberg and Frances Ha – the second of which she co-wrote). The Duplass brothers have made two films – Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home – with bigger movie stars, and Mark Duplass has started a nice little acting career for himself. Lynn Shelton has also moved onto films with bigger stars – Your Sister’s Sister, and the upcoming Touchy Feely. Lena Dunham’s lone directing effort in film, Tiny Furniture, is often called a mumblecore film, and she’s now one of the biggest names on TV. Actress Amy Seimetz is having a great year this year, with her performance in Shane Carruth’s excellent Upstream Color, and her own film, Sun Don’t Shine, which while some call it a mumblecore film, it doesn’t really seem like one to me. So I suppose it was only a matter of time before Joe Swanberg – arguably the director most associated with mumblecore – tried his hand at something more mainstream.

With Drinking Buddies, Swanberg doesn’t stray too far from his mumblecore roots – the characters are still hipsters (they work at a craft brewery, and if there’s anything more hipster than that, I’m not sure what it is), and the film is still largely improvised by its cast. The film however does have a more standard issue setup – two friends, one male, one female, who the audience knows are perfect for each other, but are involved with other people when the movie opens.

The two characters are Kate (Olivia Wilder) and Luke (Jake Johnson) – and the two of them have an easy chemistry with each other. They laugh, flirt and joke around with each other, and seem completely at ease with each other. And then we meet their significant others – Kate’s is Chris (Ron Livingstone), a slightly older, dullard and Luke’s is Jill (Anna Kendrick), a cute, perky super organized artist. We know when the four of them go away together for the weekend something is going to happen – but we’re not quite expecting what does.

It becomes clear at some point in the running time that Swanberg isn’t going to give the audience exactly what they are expecting. This is his way of twisting the romantic comedy genre if you will – there’s only one real problem with that – once he decided to not have the movie payoff in the way we are expecting, he doesn’t really come up with a way for it to pay off at all. The result is an amusing diversion – but really not much else.

The acting it must be said is quite good. We expect Johnson to be at ease in this type of role – it isn’t all that far away from his character on New Girl, who of course, would fit right in a mumblecore movie. I wasn’t expecting Wilde to be as good as she is – but she is charming and funny, and fits it well. It’s nice to see her have a role to play that isn’t literally the personification of female perfection she played in Tron: Legacy or Cowboys and Aliens. Anna Kendrick proves once again why she’s going to have a long career – she fits in with ease to whatever movie you’re making. Livingstone is rather dull and boring as Chris – but then again, I think the entire point of his character is to make him dull and boring, so kudos to him I guess.

The movie doesn’t really go anywhere – but then again, I don’t think Swanberg really wants it to. If he’s going to make it as a mainstream filmmaker, he’s going to do it on his own terms. Good for him. I hope the next film he makes is better than Drinking Buddies – there’s a lot of promise in it, but it ultimately left me wanting more.

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