Press "Enter" to skip to content

REVIEW | Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies: Mumblecore Grows Up and Gets Drunk

Hello, rad Campanil readers! My name is Destynee and I love movies, particularly independent cinema and the Bay Area film scene.

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson in DRINKING BUDDIES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson in DRINKING BUDDIES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Many people are not familiar with the work of the incredibly prolific independent filmmaker Joe Swanberg, but they will be after this summer. His latest feature, Drinking Buddies, released Video-On-Demand (VOD) in July and theatrically in August, stars Olivia Wilde of Tron fame, Jake Johnson from New Girl, Anna Kendrick of Twilight and that “Cups” song that’s on the radio rather incessantly, and Ron freaking Livingston, and I am 87% positive that you have heard of this movie prior to reading about it here. As his previous films utilized filmmaker friends like Ti West and Amy Seimetz or to-be-discovered talent like Kentucker Audley and Kate Lyn Sheil or Pretty Big Deals like Greta Gerwig (who got her start in Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs and went on to work in Woody Allen and Whit Stillman films) for their acting skills, Drinking Buddies marks a departure in casting that has brought Joe Swanberg into the well-deserved spotlight, puzzling many in the media and beyond. Swanberg himself funnily and succinctly summed up and Tweeted about this “phenomena” here:

Tweet from @joe_swanberg.

Despite its star-studded cast, Drinking Buddies still feels like a Swanberg film. At its core, the film, like all of Swanberg’s work, is immensely personal and authentically honest in ways most movies are not. Drinking Buddies follows the story of Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson), two good friends who work in a craft brewery together, and centers on their blurry, sometimes tumultuous, maybe romantic relationship with each other as well as with their partners, Chris (Livingston) and Jill (Kendrick), respectively. The plot is a bit sparse, but the film certainly is not. Brimming over with laughs, stunning performances, really great music, and a lot of beer, Drinking Buddies taps into a rare vein of cinematic magic. Plus, the film manages to be achingly relatable, even if you aren’t of legal drinking age yet. (Ever eat cake for breakfast or kiss somebody that you maybe shouldn’t have? Then Drinking Buddies was made for you!)

Film critics and journalists have bemoaned the “death” of mumblecore, a sect of low-budget indie filmmaking (of which Swanberg is regarded as a pioneer by the cinephile community) that emerged in the mid-2000s and is characterized by its naturalistic dialogue, with the release of Drinking Buddies and Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess. To me, on the other hand, the mainstream success of these films symbolizes the growth of the little-regarded genre and its directors. Drinking Buddies is a perfect example of applying the tenets of mumblecore filmmaking to bigger productions with larger budgets to make something truly worthwhile, effective, and beautiful. And Drinking Buddies — shot by Ben Richardson, the cinematographer of the San Francisco Film Society-sponsored and Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild — really is beautiful.

Do I even need to mention that all of the film’s dialogue is improvised? Or that Jason Sudeikis has a rad cameo? Or that Olivia Wilde’s character says she’s “sweatin’ [her] balls off” while being absolutely alluring? Or that the actors drank real, actual beer while filming and are sometimes real, actual drunk on screen? Why aren’t you watching this film right now?

You can catch Drinking Buddies exclusively at The Roxie in San Francisco. It is also available on iTunes and through most VOD services if you can’t make it to the Mission.