Joshua Reviews Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies [SXSW 2013 Review]

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Some film makers are prolific, and some are Joe Swanberg. With more than a handful of features to his name, the filmmaker is back once again with a new, intimate romantic comedy/drama entitled Drinking Buddies. And it may be his most mature, and most affecting, piece of work to date.

Drinking Buddies introduces us to two friends, and the people that romantically inhabit there life. There is Luke, a brewer at a local brewery, and Kate, a manager of the company, stuck making too many phone calls and drinking as much craft beer as possible. Each are in committed relationships, Luke with a teacher named Jane and Kate with a record producer named Chris. However, when friendships become blurred and relationships tested, we bare witness to one of the most mature and affecting looks at relationships in today’s world in quite some time.

Swanberg expands his craft beyond words with this film. Still as plaintive and quiet as anything like Uncle Kent or Alexander The Last, but Drinking Buddies sees great growth in Swanberg’s aesthetic, proving this to be his most filmic effort. Beautifully shot by Ben Richardson (best known for a film like Beasts Of The Southern Wild), the film looks stunning, and Swanberg’s frames are equally as composed.

That all said, the film is still, in the deepest reaches of its soul, a Joe Swanberg film. On point dialogue and pitch perfect tone, the his hand with comedy and drama is as powerful as at any point in his career. Inherently a performance piece, Swanberg’s direction actually elevates the material into cinematic form, proving him to be far more than just a micro-budget auteur. Seemingly inspired by the works of people like Lynn Shelton or even the Duplass Brothers, his comrades in the mumblecore world, the film stands as a masterwork for a movement that has unjustly becoming a whipping boy for those fed up with modern independent cinema. It’s impossible not to think of a film like Your Sister’s Sister being a close relative of this picture both in aesthetic and themes. It’s a true sight to behold.

However, the performances steal this show. All four leads here are absolutely superb. Jake Johnson has never been better as Luke, a character so perfectly fit for his casual sense of comedic and emotional timing that its startling. Olivia Wilde carries much of the emotional weight with Johnson, and their chemistry is kinetic. Their relationship is full of so much truth and depth that it feels ripped rich out of their own lives. Pair them up with Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, and you have as poignant a meditation on modern relationships as Swanberg has ever produced.

Truth is something this film has in spades. Oozing realism out of every pore, Drinking Buddies is a masterpiece from a director who has become as polarizing as the genre he helped form. Bringing mumblecore to the masses with yet another character and performance driven drama/comedy, Joe Swanberg elevates his game to the A-list cast he has assembled here, making what may be his most resonant and cinematically powerful film to this very day.

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