Drinking Buddies review

Mumblecore slurs into the spotlight

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Drinking Buddies is a romantic comedy that doesn’t feel much like one. Or at least, not a run-of-the-mill, recycled-formula one.

Refreshing and nuanced, it’s When Harry Met Sally played for plausible drama rather than big laughs; a ‘will they, won’t they?’ with something to say about the complex, delicate nature of attraction without having to actually say it.

There’s a suitably unspoken sense of longing, angst and uncertainty underpinning the flirty, beer-loving friendship between Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) – co-workers at a Chicago craft brewery – both of whom have quieter partners: Chris (Ron Livingston) and Jill (Anna Kendrick), respectively.

As you might expect, Kate and Luke are as perfect for each other as Chris and Jill are; a fact that becomes clear when the couples go on a double-date weekend retreat. It’s here, however, that the romcom set-up bubbles into something a bit more interesting and believable.

Writer/director Joe Swanberg (best known for mumblecore movies like LOL and Hannah Takes The Stairs ) sets about deftly dissecting the messy, strange phenomenon of what is, essentially, Luke and Kate’s emotional affair.

A friendship that isn’t really a friendship. A relationship that isn’t really a relationship. It’s a theme that would have been impossible to pull off with a cast any less adept at saying one thing while meaning another.

Special mention should go to Wilde, whose slobbish Kate is instantly likeable – as well as swilling with chaos, conflict and yes, booze. She’s the driving force of a portrait of love where the subject’s neither romanticised nor – as can be a risk with mumblecore – rendered tedious.

Characters don’t stare out of windows (or indeed dash to the airport), but we do get drama, fun and a sense of structure, all carried off with a lightness of touch. Best of all, though, is the uneasy ring of truth, which will definitely still be with you the morning after.

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Stephen is a freelance culture journalist specialising in TV and film. He writes regularly for the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the i, Radio Times, and WIRED.