What’s on Netflix: “Drinking Buddies”

Drinking Buddies – released just before the new year on Netflix – stars Jake Johnson (a.k.a., Nick Miller from New Girl) and Olivia Wilde as two close friends working at Revolution Brewery in Chicago. Full review and modest spoilers below.

Kate (Olivia Wilde) does promotions, scheduling, event management, and everything in between for the brewery whereas Luke (Jake Johnson) is one of the many actual brewers. The pair shares lunches every day over a few cups of beer, and they are quite clearly each other’s work boyfriend/girlfriend without actually having a substantial relationship outside of work. Another important factor is that Kate embodies that stereotype of a girl that blends in as “one of the guys” while being largely ignorant of the fact that every guy in her immediate vicinity is obsessed with her. Kate and Luke’s relationship seems mostly platonic, despite the constant flirtation. On most nights, they go out together with the rest of the brewery staff to the same local bar to drink and play pool. And on other nights, they just drink at home. The sheer number of beers consumed throughout this movie is astounding, and it doesn’t take long for the brews to appear on camera.

All in all, the movie feels largely devoid of conflict as it drifts from scene to scene showing us snapshots from a vaguely alcoholic and largely repetitive lifestyle, one that might seem all too familiar to many of us. What it decides to do – almost out of necessity – is to focus on Kate and Luke’s relationship, one that is brimming with chemistry that is obvious to everyone but them. To complicate things, Luke has a long-time girlfriend, Jill (Anna Kendrick), who is organized, kind of serious, and seems primed for marriage and wanting of intellectual stimulation. To put it bluntly, she kind of all wrong for Luke who is as laid back and grizzled as a pothead lumberjack. Similarly, Kate’s frequent hook-up (Ron Livingston) that she sometimes refers to as her “boyfriend” doesn’t seem completely satisfied by their situation either. Kate’s a bit of a wild thing and she swears like a sailor; hardly the kind of girl you’d want to bring home to mom.

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The only main cast member missing from this is Jake Johnson’s beard.

Throughout the middle act of Drinking Buddies, the two couples have a weekend-long retreat out in the woods where they dabble in a bit of emotional spouse swapping. Chris – Kate’s luke warm boyfriend – winds up going off on a hike with Jill. While the two “active people” are off in “nature”, Kate and Luke drink and play card games all day and night. It’s almost idyllic in a way and completely natural for the two of them. But then there’s an interesting juxtaposition made when Chris and Jill come back, Luke is playing the same card game with Jill. Whereas Kate seems to be all about the partying and laid back lifestyle, Jill can be that and even more for Luke. It’s perhaps the most defining moment for Luke and Kate’s “will they, won’t they” tension: while Luke definitely reciprocates Kate’s feelings for him to some degree, he’s very comfortable where he is.

By the end of their little trip, Kate is single and Luke’s girlfriend out of town, and our two brewery-workers are finally on the cusp of culminating their obvious affections for one another, made all the more morally hopeful considering some of Jill’s mild infidelities. Real life may or may not get in the way for them, or maybe they realize that happiness comes from some hard earned honesty with yourself? You’ll have to watch to see. For me the final conclusion was righteous but far from satisfying.

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For some reason Drinking Buddies felt very similar to Nice Guy Johnny for me, a movie notorious for being overwhelmingly underwhelming and existentially void of purpose. The many characters strewn throughout both movies are just so dull and relatable that you can’t help but get a little frustrated by the whole thing. In Drinking Buddies, the effect is amplified by the fact that the story was largely unscripted and unfolded with scene goals that allowed the actors the flexibility to wander about their lines while getting genuinely drunk.

I feel a bit guilty that I’m offering up what seems like a mostly negative review of Drinking Buddies. The movie is enjoyable to watch, but only about as much as it is to listen to a friend tell you stories about what they’ve been up to for the past couple months. A couple fun nights out, repetitive days at work, maybe a vacation or two, along with mild romantic issues and a lack of resolution. You just sort of expect more from a movie. Based on the premise of Drinking Buddies, you go into it expecting lots of fun loving good times and a budding modern romance – I mean they work in a brewery, right? – but what you ultimately get is the realistic, disconnected series of unremarkable, vaguely disappointing nights and a very obvious preoccupation with “the drink” that nobody ever seems to talk about.

Drinking Buddies is one of those movies that sounds rather excellent on paper but then unfolds with a somewhat lackluster delivery. For that reason, I pitched it 3 out of 5 stars on Netflix for being “Good” but certainly far from great. If you’re a New Girl fan then by all means, enjoy watching Jake Johnson in a different role, even if for the entire duration of the cabin trip, you want him to vomit absinth and have it catch on fire.

Just for fun, let’s watch some drunk Nick Miller:

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