Did you ever have that kind of relationship that was kind-of friendly, kind-of flirty, perhaps freighted with complicated emotions under the surface, but you just weren’t sure?
“Drinking Buddies,” Joe Swanberg’s deceivingly jolly, sharply alert romantic comedy, doesn’t just pay homage to those confusing unspoken feelings, but engages in that very opaqueness itself, plunging viewers into the same kind of what’s-really-going-on-here questions that its young, attractive protagonists are facing.
Olivia Wilde plays Kate, a cat-like beauty and inveterate tomboy who works as an events planner at a hip Chicago microbrewery, where as the only chick on staff she regularly drinks her male co-workers under the table and happily beats their pants off at pool. Kate is involved with a mild-mannered guy named Chris, but she comes most alive when she’s at work with Luke (Jake Johnson), with whom she enjoys a part-snarky, part-sparky rapport.
But Luke’s living with Jill (Anna Kendrick), a sweet-natured special education teacher who gamely tries to keep up with Kate and Luke’s in-jokes but who, like Chris, inevitably finds all the kidding around a little tiresome. You know where this will end up. Right?
Swanberg is best known for being part of the mumblecore generation, a group whose naturalistic portraits of Millennial agonistes have produced such radiant talents as Greta Gerwig, who starred in Swanberg’s best-known film, “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” With its cast of well-known stars (Wilde’s real-life squeeze, Jason Sudeikis, has a small role), “Drinking Buddies” possesses more surface sheen than Swanberg’s previous outings, but it hews to his loose, improvisatory style, a lack of fussiness that masks often profound emotional truths and deep perception.
In this case, it examines the simple, rarely romantic, truths that undergird commitment, upending all manner of aesthetic and narrative conventions in the process. “Drinking Buddies” is helped enormously by its relaxed pacing, exuberant alt-rock soundtrack and photogenic lead players, all of whom are still young enough to drink copious glasses of hoppy libations without one broken blood vessel or expanding waistline. Wilde and Johnson are particularly convincing as opposite-sex buds who are so in synch that they raise their glasses at the same time.
But beyond the joking around and “like, you know” confidences, “Drinking Buddies” slyly puts the lie to myriad Hollywood myths about love, friendship, rivalry and the laws of attraction — and has enormous fun doing it. You may know where this will end up, but watch “Drinking Buddies” anyway. You’ll be amazed more by where it doesn’t go than where it does.
R. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains profanity throughout. 90 minutes.