Realistic Romances: Drinking Buddies

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author: Timmie

Centering around two close work friends, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), Drinking Buddies tackles the age old question of what happens when friends are attracted to one another.

Valentine’s Day 2014 is upon us, and I’m sure everyone has been seeing the usual signs: heart shaped chocolates and cookies, sappy movie releases (Labor Day, Winter’s Tale), and an increased number of old rom-coms playing on cable.  Admittedly, it’s only the last two that I have problems with, and I’m going to tell you why.

As you may have heard on our recent release on Modern Offbeat Romances, I’m fairly sick of the same old love stories, rom-com or straight up romance.  It usually goes something like this:

The Rom-Com Steps

What I don’t get is how most people aren’t also tired of seeing basically the same movie over and over.  You know within the first five minutes how the entire story is going to play out.  I see it as a waste of money, time, and insulting to my intelligence.

Now this isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy watching romances.  Quite the opposite actually.  But what I’m looking for is some insight into the human condition, and why and how we love.  It’s a complicated subject, and it deserves more thought and care than the ten steps listed above.  Luckily for me, many filmmakers out there are interested in making unique and realistic romances by including twists on the typical romantic structure.  Several of my favorites were mentioned on the podcast (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 500 Days of Summer, Take This Waltz), but one I’ve seen most recently, Drinking Buddies (2013), deserves more time than I was able to give it on air.

This film, written and directed by Joe Swanberg, is truly one of the best representations of realistic romance that I have seen in a long time.  Centering around two close work friends, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), Drinking Buddies tackles the age old question of what happens when friends are attracted to one another.

Things start off typically enough.  Luke and Kate are both in relationships.  Luke is living with his longterm girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick), while Kate is seeing Chris (Ron Livingston) not so long-term.  Though it’s clear from the starting point that the two main characters have chemistry, Swanberg really hits the point home when the foursome takes a weekend trip to the beach.  For a second it seems like there’s going to be some sort of partner swapping situation, alla a Woody Allen farce, but we quickly see that’s not how things are to play out.

Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, the majority of the romance between Luke and a newly single Kate takes place later in the film when Jill is away for several days.  Drinking Buddies does an amazing job of showing the incredible tension between the characters in every scene, although we don’t actually see them being overtly sexual. It’s the type of thing anyone could do with a friend they felt close with.  You may have done something similar yourself, and that’s what is so great about this film.  So much of it just rings true to life and how we deal with other people, particularly the opposite sex, or those we’re physically attracted to.

The twist comes in the third act, in which, before an actual romance has even started between Kate and Luke, things deteriorate quickly.  As in real life, sometimes all it takes is a minor complication for things to fall apart.  I won’t say how the plot resolves, or even if it does, but I do promise that it’s not going to be what you expect.

I have to give credit to not only Swanberg for his screenplay and directing, but the actors of Drinking Buddies as well.  Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde have excellent onscreen chemistry and draw you in with every scene.  Johnson also has great chemistry with Anna Kendrick, which keeps you wondering who you should be rooting for the entire film. And that’s kind of the point.  None of these characters is a bad person.  Their situation, like a lot of life, is not black and white.  Drinking Buddies ditches the idea of “meant to be” and gets down to the uncomfortable grey area that we all face every day, and I just want to say thank you to everyone involved.  Thank you for creating a film that helped me learn more about myself, and the relationships I have with others.

So please, this year, instead of reaching for 27 Dresses (2008) or This Means War (2012), give Drinking Buddies a chance, and enjoy watching something unexpected for a change. Happy Valentine’s Day from NJAM!

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