'Drinking Buddies'


It's easy to see yourself in parts of movie characters. Empathy and understanding are what make film as a medium so powerful. But it's not so often that you watch a film and come away believing you could very easily be friends with the main characters.

Drinking Buddies, which stars Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde as friends who teeter on the brink of being much more, is a rare exception in that sense. Or at least it is for me.

Johnson and Wilde play Luke and Kate, staffers at a small craft brewery in Chicago who flirt incessantly in between pints of Stout, IPA, Porter and every other variety of beer imaginable. If you're a self-anointed beer snob, as I am, and if you appreciate a good beard like the one Johnson sports, as I do, well then you're going to get a base level of enjoyment out of this film to go along with an insatiable hankering for a craft beer or five. The dazzling Wilde isn't too bad either. ...

Anyway, Drinking Buddies draws it central conflict from the fact that Johnson and Wilde are in relationships with other people -- Johnson with Anna Kendrick's Jill and Wilde with Ron Livingston's Chris -- when it seems like they should be with each other. Kendrick comes off as a bit of a wallflower -- an audience member in Johnson's ongoing Pale Ale-fueled show. Livingston, meanwhile, is a semi-reclusive intellectual. He's in a "relationship" with Wilde insomuch as she bikes over to his place late at night for a glorified booty call in which he drones on and on about the latest piece of highfalutin literature she should be reading before they get down to business.

Luke and Kate are court jesters, while Jill and Chris are the serious people, a contrast that becomes clear when the quartet goes away for a long weekend and the latter share a kiss.

If you're expecting the usual rom-com resolution of relationship musical chairs, then Drinking Buddies is destined to disappoint. Not long after the kiss between Livingston and Kendrick, Livingston breaks things off with Wilde. The same is not true of Kendrick, though, making for a messy third act in which Kendrick struggles with coming clean to Johnson about the kiss and Johnson and Wilde do much the same with their apparent feelings for each other.

Such poor communication, especially when so much alcohol is being consumed, makes it feel just when no simple, elegant resolution to all this yuppie angst emerges. All the same, I can't say I was invested in an outcome one way or another because, well, I felt like I was watching a film about my friends. It's hard to get a lot of tension out of the life I lead. All in all, things are pretty good for me and my lot, and so there was a bit of an empathy gap for me when it came to these characters.

Whether Luke or Kate end up together or not, you get the sense life itself will end up being pretty good for the both of them. With that being the case, it was hard to get fully absorbed in their respective fates.