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Wednesday, 25 September 2013 00:00

'Drinking Buddies' indulges too much and loses focus

'Drinking Buddies' indulges too much and loses focus
Written by Diane Carson
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About this Media...

  • Director: Joe Swanberg
  • Dates: Opens September 27, 2013

Director Joe Swanberg's "Drinking Buddies" hinges its story on Kate. She works at a Chicago microbrewery, hangs out with her fellow male workers and settles in comfortably off hours with her boyfriend. She's attractive and personable but also needy and dependent. As she ricochets from one relationship to grasp at another, Kate reveals a touching, suppressed vulnerability.

As "Drinking Buddies" charts her flawed and disrupted relationships, Kate searches increasingly and somewhat sadly to define her values, which is to say--herself. As a counterpoint to Kate and boyfriend Chris, another twentyish couple factors in. Most significantly, Kate's co-worker Luke and his girlfriend Jill spend a momentous weekend with Kate and Chris at a nearby Michigan cabin. The dramatically different ways they handle situations subtly but surely telegraphs character--or lack thereof.

While "Drinking Buddies" establishes and maintains a casual, improvisational atmosphere, this doesn't always serve the story well. Scenes meander rather aimlessly, struggling to make a point through what personal choices and reactions can disclose. This loose, discursive approach to narrative, while feeling realistic, lacks energy and drive. Only viewers who want to live with these very ordinary characters for an hour and a half will feel rewarded for time spent. Honestly, most of us can get more from monitoring our own reactions and observing friends, many of whom are probably at least as interesting as this foursome. Writer/director Swanberg, who appears in the small role of an angry driver, is too enamored of appearances, failing to probe deeply enough to offer gratifying insights.

Technically, cinematographer Ben Richardson keeps the personal interaction front and center, highlighting action. Since the episodic story rises and falls on the performances, the acting by Olivia Wilde as Kate, Jake Johnson as Luke, Anna Kendrick as Jill, and Ron Livingston as Chris matters most. Each has a comfortable, relaxed naturalness that serves the film, especially Wilde who carries the weight quite effortlessly. Still, "Drinking Buddies" feels more like a home movie than a worthy inspection of the ways we outfox ourselves in struggling to find ourselves. At a Landmark Theatre.

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