In Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies, two friends’ professional lives revolve around work at a brewery, and their off-hours existences are largely spent imbibing the product. Oliva Wilde plays Kate, a closet and semi-functioning alcoholic, a marketing professional with a Chicago brewery, and a young woman whose life feels perpetually scattered and topsy-turvy. Luke (Jake Johnson) is her best friend and a brewer. The sexual tension between Luke and Kate is palpable, even if their relationship is playfully childish, and it feels at first as if they are dating the wrong people. Luke is with Jill (Anna Kendrick), who is practical, if warm, and nothing like Kate. And Kate dates Chris (Ron Livingston), who is successful and narcissistic. A couples weekend trip to a lake house brings the foursome in tension. As Kate skinny dips late night in front of a drunken Luke, the more sober-minded Jill and Chris go for an early morning hike. There are kisses, followed by regrets.
Swanberg’s film is characterized by an off-handed, candid style which builds scenes at of seemingly endless jabber and meandering conversations. The plainness of the drama is both a strength and weakness, lending the film intimacy and familiarity, if rendering characters that can feel grating or indulgent. What surprises is the film’s ability present four self-absorbed, lack luster individuals as such recognizably pitch-perfect and endearingly human characters that you can hate, pity, and love them all in the same breath. As Drinking Buddies progresses, these characters begin to deepen. By the film’s end, Swanberg, with the aid of a particularly good performance by Wilde, manages to scratch at something deeper than the gossipy flip-flopping of the untethered young heart, a sense of time and loss tied to maturation into adulthood, and a feeling of deep loneliness and existential desperation.