SXSW Film Fest, Day 2: "Prince Avalanche," "Drinking Buddies," & More

Drinking Buddies

Director: Joe Swanberg
Stars: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Ti West, Jason Sudeikis, Frank V. Ross, Mike Brune
Running time: 90 minutes
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Score: 8/10

Joe Swanberg's first foray into mainstream-accessible filmmaking, Drinking Buddies, couldn't come at a better time for the rom-com genre. Diluted in recent years by a barrage of trite carbon copies, cinematic love stories are in dire straits, which is why Drinking Buddies is such a formidable injection of new blood. Give credit to indie stalwart Swanberg's experience working in the lo-fi movie scene, where his improv-based sensibilities (we're not gonna say mumblecore) have all led to this moment.

With Drinking Buddies (written, directed, and edited by Swanberg), he dabbles in the familiar tropes of the rom-com and then cleverly subverts them, all without making a forced point of it. The film feels as breezy and loose as his previous efforts—only this time, he's working with some big names. Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson star as a couple of beer-loving pals who work at a Chicago brewery together and, unbeknownst to them, have similar romantic lives: They're each dating someone with whom they're not entirely compatible (played by Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick, respectively).

A weekend couples' getaway leads to a conflict that, at first, seems telegraphed, as if Swanberg was falling victim to romantic storytelling conventions. But as Drinking Buddies proceeds, with the genuine laughs stacking up and the actors continuing to give naturalistic and charming performances, it becomes clear that Swanberg knows exactly what rom-com haters are expecting, and he keeps zigging where others would be zagging.

Drinking Buddies is the opposite of a Hollywood romance. Which makes it all the more crucial that Hollywood types pay attention.

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