When I go and see a film called DRINKING BUDDIES, I have a certain expectation. The film has to be about two or more guys (could be girls, drinking together) in a bar allowing alcohol to take over their system so they can let rip, scream about their boss, their neighbour, their partner, the government, whoever is dragging them down. At a certain point in the evening, buddy one will look at buddy two and say, ‘you’re not like that, but I got to tell you that you have a really annoying habit’ and buddy two will say, ‘well, you’re so depressing I don’t know what your significant other sees in you.’ And they snarl at each other before one confesses that ‘I’m being an a-hole’ and the other says ‘no, I’m being an a-hole’ and they melt and say ‘one more’ before saying goodnight and forgetting all about it, the residue of their resentment drip-feeding an eventual parting of the ways when they don’t forgive each other and each one realises that the other is the reflection they don’t want to look at in the morning. This is because our friends always represent an ideal of ourselves that we strive unconsciously to replace with an even better ideal.
OK, that’s my version of DRINKING BUDDIES.
Writer-director Joe Swanberg’s ideal of DRINKING BUDDIES is something else. In fact, someone should take the title away from him and say ‘you can’t handle it, you don’t know what you’re dealing with; you’ve got to earn it, my friend.’
His film is about two colleagues, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) who work together in a micro brewery in Chicago who are both in permanent relationships that might actually be not so great. So they should get together, right, because if Kate is going to be dumped by her boring-ass boyfriend (Ron Livingston, a Mark Duplass-alike) then Luke has first shot at the pot. Kate though just wants to be. She wants to hang with, be with the guys, go dandy with the cue (there’s a pool table here). Luke’s ultra-nice girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) actually likes Kate’s boyfriend. So much so that the guy leaves Kate out of integrity and because Kate doesn’t dig the books he gives her. But then Luke’s girlfriend realises that she’s made a big mistake. Hugh Jackman big (no, he’s not in it).
What will become of Kate and Luke? It’s break time, we get a hint.
Now I could not take Kate as a serious drinker. Why? She rides a bicycle. If alcohol is part of your social life, you walk, take the subway or cab. You do not cycle. Admittedly, at one point someone steals her wheel – and she is like a third wheel, in a sense. But cyclists are people who ride alone. They say, ‘I look good in lycra, I don’t need your approval.’ You think, ‘great thighs.’
DRINKING BUDDIES is at its heart about a male-female friendship that should stay platonic. You think of the question raised by WHEN HARRY MET SALLY – 25 years old next year, can you believe it? Can men and women be friends without sex getting in the way? The answer is, yes, if sex is never an option, but what sort of friendship is it?
We are supposed to think Kate and Luke are drinking buddies. After all, they both drink beer. Kate wants to be gender neutral, hang with the guys (see above). When men and women drink together, they define themselves by their choice of beverage. A woman gets a cocktail that suggests a bunch of sophisticated elements – this is who I am. A guy sips beer, simple, uncomplicated – this is who I am. The guy can seem samey yet dependable. When a woman takes a beer, she makes a claim for that title.
I suspect Joe Swanberg, a graduate of mumblecore – who likes that term? – didn’t have a proper title. The one he chose let us down. His movie only comes to life in the last half hour, when Luke cuts his hand carrying Kate’s beaten up sofa, then gets into a row with a motorist who wants his space – ‘your moving van is blocking the road, man’. I couldn’t believe Kate would leave birthday decorations in her old apartment, then it hit me – her character is written as a man. I didn’t believe in her. Just because I don’t know such a person, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
DRINKING BUDDIES is no classic, yet had potential. It felt that odd drink you try once before you switch. It is a WKD of a movie (I don’t know if there is an American alco-pop). I can’t recommend it, even if the acting is naturalistic and stuff. It’s like one on boring guy’s books – you want to give it back or donate it to charity.
Reviewed at Cineworld Enfield, North London, Saturday 2 November 2013 21:00 screening – after two coffees.