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London Film Festival 2013: Drinking Buddies - Review

Drinking Buddies

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

A TERRIFIC ensemble cast make the most of some clever writing and the freedom to improvise in writer-director Joe Swanberg’s utterly absorbing Drinking Buddies.

A relationship comedy-drama, this is intelligent, witty, heart-warming and surprising, displaying a rare maturity in its outlook on friendships and sexual relationships.

Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work at a Chicago brewing company and are close friends who continually seem to be on the verge of developing into something more. However, Kate is seeing a wealthy, older man (Ron Livingston), while Luke is living with his fiance (Anna Kendrick) and being pressured into setting a wedding date.

A double date weekend away throws a sharper spotlight on the relationships in question and subsequently paves the way for some of the decisions that follow.

Swanberg’s film is one of those rare treats: a comedy-drama that makes you laugh and makes you think, while treating its audience as adults throughout. The characters feel real and flawed and there isn’t always an easy answer to the relationship conundrums that ensue, even though the director still manages to drop in a feel-good ending that in no way feels contrived or sentimental.

It’s also expertly performed by a cast that clearly had fun being in each other’s company. Wilde (embracing a rare leading role) and Johnson (showing more dramatic range than New Girl necessarily allows) are excellent and have an easygoing chemistry that makes time spent in their company utterly charming (and quite often booze-soaked as there are very few scenes that don’t involve someone drinking a beer).

But there’s notable support, too, from Livingston and the ever dependable Kendrick, who bring their own complexities to the roles, albeit with reduced screen-time.

Kate and Luke, though, deservedly remain the focus throughout and seeing how the sexual tension between them manifests itself is utterly riveting and supremely well performed. Both Wilde and Johnson deserve many more leading roles after this – the former offsetting brazen cheerfulness with an underlying vulnerability and the latter tapping into an uncertainty and frustration with his lot in life.

It’s refreshing to find a comedy that’s this engaging without resorting to obvious gimmicks or lazy humour. In short, Drinking Buddies is well worth raising your own glass to and toasting as one of the films of the year.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 90mins
UK Release Date: November 1, 2013
London Film Festival Dates: October 18 (Vue 5, 6pm), October 19 (Vue5, 12.30pm), October 20 (Hackney, 3.30pm)