Drinking Buddies is a brief thing. It's the sort of lo-fi indie that knows not to overstay its welcome or push its luck, and, in the right mood, that's refreshing enough. Zoom out a bit though, away from that fleeting viewing, and the things driving it all begin to blur. They're too standard, too repeated, too much like the non-plot points of an over-workshopped short story. We meet a girl named Kate (Olivia Wilde) and a boy named Luke (Jake Johnson) who are, it seems, best friends. They work at a microbrewery in Chicago, and it is there where we see them joke around, be themselves, and act like overgrown children when they know no one else is watching. Kate tastes Luke's beer by sticking a finger in it, and his bickering, but otherwise nonplussed reaction tells us all we need to know. Of course, there's more to that, and Drinking Buddies quickly drives its not-so mumblecore sensibilities towards Hollywood to become a very quiet, understated romantic comedy. When Kate brings around her newish boyfriend Chris (Ron Livingston) to meet Luke and his girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick), the besties are so blind to the signs that they fail to realize something may be up with their significant others.
From there, the film becomes a short blend of "will they or won't they" scenarios with very little drama or comedy to be found. Instead (and perhaps this is essentially a mark of the mumblecore), Drinking Buddies just kind of exists and, at times, feels almost voyeuristic in its rather straightforward, unpolished depiction of modern relationships. There's not much particularly interesting about it, unless, of course, you're interested in the reasons why it's not interesting. The right academic could almost certainly write an extensive, praise-filled essay on how this film's refusal to up the volume makes it a rarity or success in the current cinematic climate; I'm just not that person. Though I'm willing to admit the film feels like a serious breakthrough for director Joe Swanberg (he made Hannah Takes the Stairs) away from the intense, insufferable non-activity of the initial "mumblecore" gesture, ultimately Drinking Buddies is just a pleasant enough encounter at a neighborhood bar with room to collect your thoughts.
The most fascinating element, I fear, and the reason why I will ultimately recommend that my friends check this film out, is its wholly accurate depiction of a sort of 20-something North Side Chicago life. Kate and Luke work for Revolution Brewery, a very real, enormously popular staple of current Chicago existence. They hang out there, they play pool at the Empty Bottle, Kate bikes down streets and through neighborhoods that are all-too familiar. Wilde, Johnson, and Kendrick sorta blend right in, and supposedly took to living and hanging out in these places during shooting with, well, no fanfare whatsoever. Any marks against the film's casual approach to dialogue be damned, one thing I can say is that I totally bought into the idea of these characters as people. I totally know versions of them. Frankly, though, I have no idea how Swanberg managed to film this thing without anyone I know talking about its curious disruption in their day-to-day hangouts. Maybe everyone's too distracted by the late night blazes for Chicago Fire, the Divergent set-ups, and Transformers destruction to notice Olivia Wilde hanging round the bar after shooting.