‘Drinking Buddies’: Olivia Wilde at her best

(older movie reviews with a new coat of paint)

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson are so good as Kate and Luke that you nearly forget you are merely watching actors play best friends.  As the sentence finishing and lingo infused duo of a brewing company who have been drowning a burning attraction for years with laughs, food and a LOT of beer, the actors are pure revelations.  The material is simple enough.   They are friends and their spouses and co-workers are simply waiting for the dynamite stick of romance to drop.  Whether it does or not is writer/director Joe Swanberg’s magic trick that will keep you looking until the final pin drop.  This isn’t your normal romantic comedy people.  Please don’t write it off as just another “they will get together in the end and the latest coolest pop ballad will fill the background with a smooth digestive flavor”.  Drinking Buddies moves in mysterious ways and the reason  it works so well is the top flight acting crew assembled, anchored by the new kids on the block to real drama and that’s Wilde and Johnson.

Magnolia Pictures

You may know the two.  Wilde is the drop dead gorgeous beauty who battled aliens with Daniel Craig and romanced Ryan Reynolds while Jason Bateman was stuck inside his body.  Johnson spins bottles with Zooey Deschanel on Fox’s New Girl and has dabbled in supporting roles in films such as 2012’s Safety Guaranteed.   Here, the two are joined by the always reliable Kendrick and Livingston (so cool on screen that he appears to be floating through air while making his lines up as he goes).   This is a four part play set inside a movie.

For the first time in a fair stretch of attempts, the heavy parts of this comedy are handled with care and never reach sentimentality.  The bar scenes are realistic.  The awkward moments of sexuality are strangled by conviction.  The actors feel like they know and love the parts they play.   When a genre is treated right, magic can happen.  Drinking Buddies surprised the crap out of me.  This is due to a nail hitting script from Swanberg and his ability to let two unproven actors take on difficult roles.

Wilde has never been this good and I can’t say I am surprised.  She was the beauty with talent, something that separated her from Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba and Megan Fox.  She barely wears any makeup in the role, drinks convincingly like a fish and plays a strong flawed woman who never shows you every one of her cards.  She is a mystery even to herself.  Johnson has never been better and puts his easy going charm to good use here and doesn’t let it hide his sudden moments of self-confliction.   When he stands still and just stares into the character’s eyes through the camouflage of his beard and Old Style baseball cap, it penetrates your senses and the screen.   This isn’t high art kids, but for a movie with this name and expectation, it comes damn near close.

Drinking Buddies is a movie I didn’t want to see end.  You think you know where it’s going in the first third of the film only to be led down a different road as the brilliantly paced 90 minute running time comes to a close.   It doesn’t run towards its conclusion but slowly walks to it.  This is as honest of a romantic drama as you will see in a long time.  I haven’t seen a genre film done so effortlessly heartfelt with a heavy dose of reality.  This movie has soul to spare.  Every romantically involved script feels like a decision is being handed down at the end on the fates of make believe characters.  In Drinking Buddies, whether you like the end or not, you must admire the authenticity.

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