From “mumblecore” to suds: Prolific, thirty-two-year-old Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg’s new movie, “Drinking Buddies,” his first with actors already recognizable to the larger moviegoing public, could conceivably also have a budget the equal of his entire roster of fifteen-plus earlier features. But even with a fifty-person crew and recognizable stars, also a genial amalgam of the direction that the mostly improvised work has been taking, working with a sense of mood, character and place that has less concern with traditional plotting and structure than the sort of straight-laced romantic comedies that a studio (rather than independent financiers) would customarily bankroll. Set (and shot) partially at Logan Square’s Revolution Brewing, “Drinking Buddies” is more of a lope than a leap, with credible behavioral specificity—looks, glances, pauses, drawing from Swanberg’s usual semi-improvisatory style—while letting what story there is meander. Its post-“Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” quartet of contemporary friends are played by Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Olivia Wilde, and Jake Johnson, all game and good, sometimes confused, often kittenishly passive-aggressive or cuddly. (Along with that Mazursky gem from 1969, Swanberg also cites Elaine May’s “The Heartbreak Kid” as an influence.) Many puns about home brew and lager and craft beer are to be resisted: “Drinking Buddies” is a superficially meandering, yet crisp delight. The airy cinematography, shot on super 16mm, is by Ben Richardson (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”), who has made another, unreleased film with Swanberg. 90m. (Ray Pride)
“Drinking Buddies” opens Friday, August 23 at Landmark Century. It’s also available on multiple VOD platforms. The trailer below probably will tell you if “Drinking Buddies” is up your ale-ly.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.