Joe Swanberg’s first “mainstream” mumblecore film sports effervescent talent despite its ultra-naturalistic, ultra-Realist vibe that comes along with the genre. It’s actually much more buoyant than I expected, and much more enjoyable as a result.
I don’t admit to knowing the most about mumblecore, even though I do really enjoy some films that are based in the realist genre. The Before trilogy – which is apparently actually a major influence on mumblecore – and Andrea Arnold’s films can be extraordinary to me, but having seen at least Swanberg’s other mumblecore film, Happy Christmas, I wasn’t entirely too impressed. It felt fine. Literally just fine. But Drinking Buddies is much more vibrant and spirited.
It’s mostly thanks to its wonderful main cast. Each of them really brings something distinct to the table without them necessarily being super stereotypical because the dialogue is completely improvised. Olivia Wilde’s protagonist is dangerous and sexy and funny and absolutely useless around blood… but because it’s Wilde, her acting style screams empathy. Jake Johnson is able to hide the potential for douchebaggery very well in this. He starts out being utterly wonderful, but the climax of the film reveals a darker side that can be cutting and brutal. We don’t see as much of Anna Kendrick or Ron Livingston, but both play characters who are like the balance to Johnson and Wilde respectively. One character loses that and another manages to just hang on by a thread by appealing to their humanity.
It truly is, at its heart, about human relationships and the capacity to do both wrong and right. The idea of mumblecore is very appealing if I’m being honest. It’s more of an examination of how you’d act and react to someone due to the hardline rule about improvisation. All the actors do it seamlessly in Drinking Buddies that I was sure that it had to be partially scripted at least.
There may be a tendency to over-praise due to such a method of film production, though. Is this film the most ground-breaking relationship movie ever? I wouldn’t say so. But it does speak to me on a rather intuitive level that goes beyond me appreciating what the actors are doing onscreen. I spent half the movie not knowing it totally wasn’t scripted and probably ruined it for myself by doing a quick Google. I know I would have been much more impressed had I been fully immersed in it. There was a tendency to try and catch the actors off-guard, to see how they were stalling and if that would ruin the pace of the film. It thankfully doesn’t.
Another great thing about the film is the cinematography and editing, especially during the opening and closing scenes. There’s enough attention to detail to make it stylised and polished, but there’s a fluidity to the camera word and scene cuts. It makes the montage feel natural and logical but still bouncy and actually fun.
I would say this film has a lot of charisma and that can only ever be a good thing.