While digging through Joe Swanberg’s filmography, I’m trying as best I can to alternate between the early stuff and the modern stuff, availability permitting. I should have seen Drinking Buddies a lot earlier. It’s his breakthrough film in many ways, commercially and creatively. Not only does it boast his strongest cast but it feels like he really figured out all his strengths and put them to good use. Instead of half-baked shock tactics and “rougher the better” production value, here Swanberg puts character front and centre and with actors who can elevate things substantially, the results are, frankly, delightful.
This is the first time I’ve seen Olivia Wilde and remembered her. She’s fucking outstanding in this movie. Her chemistry with Jake Johnson is really infectious and every scene of them goofing off had me hook, line and sinker. The thing I really responded to in Drinking Buddies is how Swanberg, for the most part, lulls us into thinking this is just another “will they/won’t they” adult romance by using tired cliches (the long glances at each other, the loaded silences, the near-kisses) and then totally resists the urge to pay them off. It feels very real and authentic. There are very few contrivances or moments that don’t ring true. Voices get raised and passions run hot but but the actual damage from any argument or wrong decision is minimal. It’s not long before things revert back to the status-quo. Even the ending, which is proudly open-ended, feels exactly as it should be. I don’t think the word “love” is uttered once with any real gravitas. Even in a stripped-back rom-com that’s quite the achievement.
Having seen both Drinking Buddes and Happy Christmas now, it’s clear Swanberg is on quite a roll. I must say I do miss the go-for-broke provocation of his earlier films but he has matured enough now to know when to reign that in or just avoid it all together. Swanberg rarely puts a foot wrong in this movie. The characters and the actors are endlessly watchable and fascinating and the intimacy of the relationships never sours into something distasteful. What a pleasure.