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Joe Swanberg Takes Mumblecore Mainstream With ‘Drinking Buddies’

VODetails: 'Drinking Buddies'

More and more films premiere on Video on Demand — if they don’t simply bypass a theatrical release altogether. Because VOD reviews are often scarce and hard to find, Criticwire created VODetails, a recurring column to help you figure out whether a new VOD release is worth your hard-earned dollar. The movie: ‘Drinking Buddies,’ mumblecore veteran Joe Swanberg’s first stab at a mainstream romantic comedy. Find it on iTunes here and on demand here.

Director: Joe Swanberg

Cast: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Ti West

Synopsis: “Luke and Kate are co-workers at a Chicago brewery, where they spend their days drinking and flirting. They’re perfect for each other, except that they’re both in relationships. Luke is in the midst of marriage talks with his girlfriend of six years, Kate is playing it cool with her music producer boyfriend Chris. But you know what makes the line between “friends” and “more than friends” really blurry? Beer.”



Peter Debruge, Variety

With Drinking Buddies, director Joe Swanberg proves what many had suspected — or at least hoped — all along: that he has learned something from directing 13 features in eight years, here finally making a romantic comedy that looks like it cost more than the price of a movie ticket to produce. It’s not that the insights into how Swanberg’s generation lives today are any more profound (they’re not), but it’s encouraging to see what professional actors, a musical score and a modicum of technique can do to spruce up this observational comedy about the sexual tension between two microbrewery co-workers.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

By its conclusion, Drinking Buddies is enjoyably slight — but it also brings clarity to his other movies, all of which focus on people with the incapacity to communicate without obscuring what they really want to say. In Drinking Buddies, they still don’t quite say it, but the conundrum is especially clear.

Don Simpson, Film Threat

As a long-time fan of Swanberg’s films, I was admittedly a bit skeptical when I first learned about Drinking Buddies, mostly because I did not expect Wilde and her cohorts to be up for the task; but, thankfully, I was proven wrong, and the actors go places that I would never expect studio-seasoned actors to go. Also, Swanberg admirably retains his cinematic style while simultaneously smoothing out the inherent edges of a micro-budget production.

Eric Snider, Twitch

The entire cast (which also includes Ti West and Jason Sudeikis) has an easy rapport that gives the movie a lived-in feel. Swanberg has always excelled at creating that sort of atmosphere, and it’s an encouraging sign that he didn’t lose the knack when he made a “bigger” film.

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter:

The flirting we’ve witnessed before this slumber party primes us for one thing, but Swanberg gives us something slightly more complicated. He does so in scenes whose spontaneous-feeling dialogue is sprinkled with awkward silence and flubbed responses — the conversational-observation stuff Swanberg and his peers have been mining for a few years, here edited beautifully and making the most of comic discomfort.

William Goss, Film.com

For all of its seemingly shaggy plotting, Drinking Buddies actually rather deftly acknowledges the Schrodinger-like dilemma of platonic relationships between men and women: there’s no way to determine if it’s one thing or the other without killing the cat. In a film about how hard it is to know what you want, and then to express it, Swanberg gets to the heart of the matters of the heart with disarming doses of both charm and wisdom.

Melanie Haupt, Austin Chronicle

Swanberg’s direction is deft, building dramatic tension in mundane moments, such as when Kate plucks Brussels sprouts from the plate of her tightly wound boyfriend, Chris (Ron Livingston), or in Luke’s subtle attempts to be Kate’s knight in shining armor, whether she needs or wants that aid. This attention to the details render this a heavily improvised hipster novella drawn in miniature, with an indie-cred soundtrack to match. Yet while the movie is often funny and engaging, with its focus on the tiny interpersonal dramas of life, the tiresome reliance on lazy, misogynistic conceptions of women leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Cory Everett, The Playlist

So often in films we’re shown the extremes: people who are meant to be together and people who clearly should not. Someone is unhappy for a reason, someone’s significant other is clearly wrong for them, etc. but life isn’t always like that and it’s rare that a film explores attraction when it’s not necessarily acted on. Relationships are hard, our biology is essentially wired to be completely destructive to monogamy and without giving away exactly how things end up, Drinking Buddies does a great job of exploring that friction.

Beth Hanna, Thompson on Hollywood

Swanberg, like his characters, doesn’t push for an answer, but rather lets things drift in a remarkably realistic way. People move toward each other and then away, and it can all happen in an instant. And then, in the next instant, it begins over again.

Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects:

Drinking Buddies is easily Swanberg’s most accessible film yet thanks to the familiar faces, and while that alone is no guarantee of quality their talents combined with his focus have resulted in a fantastic and honest film that will strike a tender chord in many of us. The pull of attraction, the risk of infidelity and the power of love. 

Dustin Rowles, Pajiba

Obviously, with no script, Drinking Buddies isn’t a plot-driven movie; it’s not even a character study. It’s a study of a scenario, an exploration of a real romantic situation: Swanberg throws four actors together, gives them a few parameters, and allows them to follow the natural progression of these characters. It’s absurd how well they navigate the challenge.

Amy Curtis, We Got This Covered

The problem with letting actors largely create dialogue and shape scenes, is that your film usually feels like a voyeuristic journey into a stranger’s living room. The conversations are, for the most part, pedantic and circular. Or worse, just casual nothing. All of this translated into a somewhat insipid indie drama that felt insubstantial and kind of pointless.

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