Southern Illinois (where I hail from) is a land not full of idols or mentors for a movie loving person like myself. We have Roger Ebert and that is about it. That is until a couple of years ago. A guy who graduated from a sister college that I went to moved up to Chicago and started to make little web series that caught on with the ultra indie crowd. They were full of improvisation and frank talk about relationships and sex. I loved them not just because these web series seemed to know just how I was feeling but also because this man came from the same region I did. That man was and still is Joe Swanberg. Since those web series he has gone on to become something of an indie darling, producing and directing movies with slightly higher budgets and name stars in them, but is still able to get to the core of young human experience. One of his more recent films is Drinking Buddies.
Olivia Wilde plays Kate, a PR person for a brewery in Chicago. She is best friends with Luke, played by Jake Johnson, who works as a brewer at the same brewery. She spends her nights getting drunk with the guys and riding around on her bike. Kate and her boyfriend, Chris (played by Ron Livingston), invite Luke and his girlfriend, Jill (played by Anna Kendrick), to a cabin in Michigan for a weekend getaway. Kate and Luke become closer as friends as they joke around together and get drunk together. Things are different for Chris and Jill. Chris invites everyone on a hike but only Jill goes with him. After a long talk while hiking and a picnic, Chris kisses Jill. This results in Chris breaking up with Kate. Kate spirals into a drunken haze while Luke tries to play big brother and doting boyfriend to her. Jill doesn’t tell Luke what happens but instead runs off to Costa Rica for a conference. While she is gone, Kate asks Luke to help her move. What turns out to be an idyllic weekend of packing and buddying around turns into tension filled shit show because the attraction is too much for them to handle. Finally things take their toll and they get into a big fight. Luke hurries home to his empty apartment to find Jill crying in the kitchen. Jill tells Luke what happened at the cabin that weekend. In typical Swanberg fashion, he goes for the truth of the relationship between them instead of the bombastic catharsis.
Due to the nature of how Swanberg shoots his movies, this movie felt lived in. Each character (with the possible exception of Chris just because he has a smaller role in the film) feels like they could be your co-workers, neighbors or friends. They are feel both typical of Chicago twentysomethings and yet universal to all human experience. Swanberg doesn’t short change anyone, especially Jill who would have been a monster in a typical romantic comedy. Jill is likable and considerate. She is overwhelmed by what she does, but doesn’t want it to hamper her great relationship with Luke. Each actor plays well off one another and is able to ramp up the tension by not saying how they really feel. In a typical movie that relies so heavily on improvisation, you sometimes will get a statement of emotion from the character because the actor doesn’t know how to express it any other way. But we are watching four really great actors living in their characters to the point that nothing (until the end) is expressed without four layers of meaning piled on top of it. This is how real people interact and how they talk to each other. Swanberg has an uncanny knack for depicting realism in this non-real time.