Around 11 the other day, I saw a girl on Facebook so attractive I just couldn’t close the tab. A friend of a friend, so I didn’t know her, but she reminded me of a girl. I knew if I didn’t stop myself, it would only be a matter of time before I was bumping Usher and eating ice cream. Fixing to blow again were the those feels: the “I miss yous,” the black and white, what-if laden carousel of “I wonder how whatsername is doing..” It triggers a toxic cascade I avoid like so many sneezes in public. But all the same, I needed to pump the breaks; my beans weren’t cool. So, I turned on the Netflix and streamed a movie that’d lingered on my queue since I saw it come out.
Netflix is savvy.
Higher ups spot the quick risers, ideal for a bargain-based competitive strategy. These type of actor-stars are in that goldilocks zone where they may not yet lay a valid claim to blockbuster numbers or cooperation with big names on a regular basis, but neither are they small fries. They might star opposite Clooney one year, do indie films and involve themselves in lower-cost threshold projects the next. Seizing on the actors’ momentum, Netflix fosters familiarity for faces like Wilde’s and Kendrick’s, as well as Jason Sudeikis’s ugly mug. It’s a positive association. The talent in Drinking Buddies has either burst already or otherwise has the chops to deliver a meaningful movie experience.
The steak and potatoes of Drinking Buddies has to be what’s going on with Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson). As co-workers at this clean-cut brewery in Chitown, their on-the-clock activity is remarkably indistinguishable from free time: they flirt shamelessly, if without risk – because each is dating another and happily in that relationship; they crack brews on this record-setting pace and finish each with break-bottleneck speed.
I felt like I was watching something kind of special happening between Wilde and Johnson, but maybe I was just drunk on it all. The prototype is tried and true, but a clear coat of wax with some elbow grease goes a looong way. I would say Drinking Buddies is a polished take on that i-like-you-but-i-know-i-shouldn’t flick. The lovechild of writer/director Joe Swanberg and a gifted cadre of young actor-lovers, this peers in betwen the cracks of relationships. It won’t spare you any of the confusion and isolation it visits upon its capable cast. Fair warning: don’t watch this if you have somebody, especially if you’re with the person you think you should be.
Deal with “the doubt.” You must!
Anyhow. Despite all that, the movie is shot in such a way as to be insufferably pleasant. I enjoyed the opening montage because it’s never occurred to me to think much on how they create beer. Giant, shiny silver capsules in elaborate suspension; scaffolded, these upright alco-wells are kept neat, because brewin’ is a tidy affair. All manner of purposed piping, metal tubes, and coarse hops are routed intricately throughout the ground floor of the brewery – all in the almighty name of the finished product that taps out behind a bar in the warehouse.
In such a setting a viewer might expect something similar in composure from the movie’s main characters. Think again, dummies. It’s a tangled web. Luke and Kate are the closest of goof-off companions, though each has a committed and significant other. Luke has been dating Jill (Anna Kendrick) for much longer than Kate and Chris (Ron Livingston) have been an item; they’re talking marriage, those two. Kate and Chris haven’t crested their one-year though, and at moments, it appears they’re circling the drain. Swanberg, as filmmaker and writer, does something I simultaneously needed but hated: he made it obvious, in those little moments, just how ill-suited Kate and Chris were.
Chris (Livingston) is a chip off your block of rare hunk. A smart, wealthy twenty-something, Chris has a sick apartment and a predilection for literature. He gives Kate special, obscure little books he thinks she’ll enjoy. It’s obvious: Chris is trying to make Kate the type of girl he wants to be with, whereas Kate enjoys having Chris, the boyfriend – she’d be just as content to drink and fill in
her the blank.
But Chris doesn’t seem like the type; he’s lukewarm on beer, not a craft junkie, and far from sitting above suspicion for using Kate because he likes how she’s put together. Seeing these mismatched moments in the early going; pairing that, like meat and wine, with the irresistible chemistry glimpsed between Kate and Luke, Swanberg’s not trying to pull a fast one (but I kind of wished he was).
I’ve heard it said that when you love someone, you can’t be completely confident in that bond because you aren’t always sure of yourself. Self-confidence is not Luke’s problem, and I don’t think he’s playing any chess games in his head before bed at night, strategizing how he’s going to make hay of this I’ve-got-a-GF-and-a-work-flirt thing. Luke might be one of those bounders. Outgoing, touchy-feely but not creepy, hilarious and comfortable: Kate loves so much about him, and vice versa.
Each sees the other for lunch at work usually, and they share food and a drink. Kate works the phones and event plans upstairs, so why is she coming through the brewing floor so often? Hmm. Oh right right, Luke works down there. But he’s smitten to be with Jill (Kendrick)! Right?
Jill is kind of this perfectionist. I can’t fathom why she’s with Luke, except that even I kind of dig Luke. He’s the personality type you gravitate toward at a party full of strangers. He tells stories, gets your head in the game, and just isn’t pretentious. But Jill, she puts on airs. A scheduled, forward-thinking planner with ambitions and some real goals, she is not content to just be with Luke; she wants to marry him and to get all that stuff going. She has a silly side, can goof off and drink, and cuts loose alright; I think Luke brings that out in her, which she likes, but her default loadout is not playful.
Drinking Buddies goes in and goes in hard, cueing even yours truly – initially half interested in this romantic dramedy – into its nuances. These young actors thrive in this grey – Wilde, Kendrick, and to a lesser extent Johnson and Livingston – of mixed emotion and the self-enforced rules of long-term relationships.
I have given you everything you need to know. The plot and the actual goings-on of this movie will be ruined for you if I spell them out, because the action is not complicated. Like I said: this is a polished take on a story you’ve seen before. It is the cinematography and the setting, the delicate facial reactions of the actors, and the way Swanberg takes his fist, jams it into your chest cavity, and messes with your heart. That’s the secret ingredient of Drinking Buddies.
It swept me off my feet. Alright, fine, I was drunk. Before you judge, watch. Are you going to enjoy it? There’s fodder for the ladies; it’s got girls, and it’s got booze. Do you know what that means?
(Nine-Nine fans: that’s Detective Charles Boyle in that clip, from Superbad)