' ' Cinema Romantico: Drinking Buddies

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Drinking Buddies

"Drinking Buddies", while character and dialogue-centric, is a film dictated almost exclusively by its environment and beverage accoutrement - pint glasses and tulip glasses and plain old plastic cups. The primary setting is a thriving brewery in Chicago, though the story is less interested in the brewery's inner-workings and the brewing process than in the perks of being an employee.

By perks I mean beer. A lot of it. Characters drink it with their lunch and drink it when they punch out for the day and drink it when they go out after work and then they return home and usually crack open another bottle or two. Occasionally they even make like the dock workers in the second season of "The Wire" and substitute it for coffee. They often appear unkempt, possibly un-showered, as if in the midst of an eternal hangover, which may well be the case. The subject of alcoholism is never raised, a detail which feels right because no one in this insular world would see alcohol as a problem. It's their living, monetarily and socially.

Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work together at the brewery. She is a harried event coordinator, schmoozing clientele and setting up tastings, while he mans the front lines, preparing the ales and lagers that he proceeds to prodigiously down. They are friends, teetering on the brink of being more, but never quite getting there. She is dating Chris (Ron Livingston). He is dating Jill (Anna Kendrick). Before long this quartet invades a Michigan beachside cabin and "Drinking Buddies" threatens to become "Your Sister's Sister" with one extra person. Especially when on a hiking excursion that Kate and Luke avoid, Chris and Jill make out.

Instead the story moves back to Chicago where Chris proceeds to break it off with Kate who does not so much spiral out of control as merely imbibe adult beverages at a slightly higher rate than she already did while Jill passively-aggressively presses Luke on the marriage they often discuss but never plan. All signs involving Kate and Luke point toward Will They/Won't They? And while that question looms, Joe Swanberg, the writer and director and editor, admirably refuses to play the situation for its manufactured suspense. Behavior is what interests him.

Behavior is what has always interested him. His previous cinematic outings have never gone much for conventional story, opting instead for throwing people together, allowing them to air their grievances and seeing what happens. And while "Drinking Buddies" possesses that same sort of lax structure, it is so much more precise in saying what it wants to say. That is, the fact that its characters are unable to say what they want to say.

The film was supposedly mostly improvised, and feels like it, but the improvisation is nicely in tune with the rhythms of real life. Wilde and Johnson in the primary roles create an entertaining rapport that effectively communicates just how little they actually communicate beyond giving each other crap. These two really need to deal with how they feel about one another, except they are specifically portrayed and played as two people who would rather down another drink and smear lunch meat on each other’s faces than face a friends without benefits reckoning.

Which is why in the end it comes across less about Will They/Won't They then How Can They Not? As in, how can two flirtatious people working together in such tight, alcohol-infused proximity day after day after day not eventually cave to the carnal? In other words, their environment threatens to make the decisions for them. The film does not even reach a real conclusion, instead cutting out what feels like a few chapters early and leaving numerous future blanks to be filled in.

One thing’s for sure – a lot of those blanks will get filled with malted barley drawn from a tap.

1 comment:

Alex Withrow said...

I personally felt that the film cut out a little too early. I'm all for ambiguity, but this felt like it cut of the last 10 minutes of the film, just to be, I dunno... cute.

I dig the flick as a whole, but I thought the end was a tad cheap.