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By Tom Clift
December 18, 2013
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Drinking Buddies

A film that goes down like your second beer on a warm summer evening.
By Tom Clift
December 18, 2013
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Like your second beer on a warm summer evening, Drinking Buddies washes over you in exactly the way you want it to. The latest effort from prolific indie film maestro Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs), this is a movie made with the confidence of a director who has settled into his groove, supported by a cast who likewise couldn’t seem more at ease. A laid-back tale of friendship and love, unhindered by excessive ambition, this flick is funny, nuanced, relatable, touching, and an absolute pleasure to watch.

Olivia Wilde and newly bearded New Girl star Jake Johnson play Kate and Luke, best friends who work together at an independent Chicago brewery. Big time beer buffs with goofy senses of humour, it’s obvious that the two are perfect for each other, except for the fact that they’re both in relationships, with the responsible Chris (Ron Livingston) and the cheery Jill (Anna Kendrick), respectively. Things change, however, after the four share a weekend at Chris’ family cabin, forcing everyone to reconsider how they feel about their significant other.

While the presence of name actors makes Drinking Buddies his biggest film to date, Swanberg stays true to his micro-budget roots. A key figure of the mumblecore movement, his style is one of unobtrusive naturalism, complete with minimal plotting and on-set improvisation. The dialogue, clever and genuine, flows as freely as the booze — indeed, the beer the actors drink in practically every scene is real. How’s that for commitment to truth in art? Or maybe they all just liked getting pissed.

Either way, it’s an approach that more Hollywood directors should try. Whereas the leads in most American rom-coms are so one-dimensional it's cringeworthy, in Drinking Buddies even the secondary players feel like fully fledged human beings. The story is predictable, but it doesn’t matter because you’re so invested in the characters. All four of the primary cast members are in fine form, although it’s Wilde, relishing the chance to stretch her acting muscles after a series of thankless roles in films like Cowboys & Aliens and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, who clearly steals the show.

Cinematographer Ben Richard, who also shot last year’s break-out indie hit Beasts of the Southern Wilds, brings a wonderful warmness to the film’s simple, everyday images. You’ll want to live in this film. Hang out with its character. Mostly, you’ll just want to go drinking with the characters.

Drinking Buddies opens exclusive to Cinema Nova on Boxing Day. If the promise of a great film wasn’t enough, Nova is also offering one lucky viewer the chance to win a year’s supply of beer. For more information on both the movie and contest, go here.

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