Drinking Buddies (London Film Festival 2013)
The prolific film career of Joe Swanberg has stemmed from a laissez-faire approach to improvised dialogue and natural energy – usually the early chemistry at the start of a relationship, or the dying spark when a couple have spent too much time together. Combined with his rushed camerawork, there’s plenty of Swanberg material, most of which hidden from the mainstream.
With that in mind, Drinking Buddies certainly feels like Swanberg’s self-aware debut to a wider audience. He repackages his traditional style (two couples intermingling), but with recognisable names.
Anna Kendrick and Jake Johnson are one obviously mismatched pairing; Johnson’s eager to stay indoors, while the script keenly points out Kendrick’s hobby of long walks. Her rambling partner is Ron Livingstone, who himself is in a relationship with spritely Olivia Wilde. Meanwhile, Wilde spends her time flirting heavily with her co-worker Johnson; they work with alcohol, and use it after hours. The plot unravels fairly predictably.
Of course, Drinking Buddies isn’t about “will they/won’t they?” mystery. Both couples are obviously doomed, given they’re prime examples of the dead sharks mentioned in Annie Hall. Yet with such a character-centric drama, it’s mystifying how undefined the four protagonists comes across – especially given the actors’ freedom to express themselves. In a way, the cast are too composed to chime with Swanberg’s hands-off style. Wilde is both the most and least connected with the improvised dynamics; her freshness brings confident humour that’s also at odds with the attempted realism.
Ultimately, the self-assuredness of these performers isn’t matched by depth of personality. An egregious example is that it’s never made clear why Livingstone would leave his girlfriend for Anna Kendrick, and that statement seems even more ridiculous as I type it.
Admittedly, this failed experiment is still vastly more watchable than early fare like Hannah Takes the Stairs. But it’s hard to shake off the feeling that the drama is anything more than a decent acting workshop exercise; some light chemistry with little beneath the surface.
Drinking Buddies is part of the London Film Festival’s “Laugh” strand. Screening information can be found here.
United States of America
90 mins approx