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Drinking Buddies (2013)

Magnolia Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/3/2013

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/26/2013

You're no doubt familiar with the sub-genre of indie film known as the "slice of life" movie. This is the antithesis of the high-concept Summer blockbuster tentpole movie, as it typically features very ordinary characters going about their daily lives. There is often drama involved, but nothing which gets too far-fetched. Thus, the inherent problem with this type of film becomes self-evident. If the movie is too much like daily life, then it runs the risk of being boring. Can the romantic drama Drinking Buddies avoid this fate?

Drinking Buddies opens in a brewery where Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are employed. They are very close, taking breaks together and teasing one another mercilessly. Kate has been dating Chris (Ron Livingston) for nearly a year, while Luke has been with Jill (Anna Kendrick) for six years. While Kate and Chris are still exploring their relationship, Jill is wondering if Luke is every going to ask her to marry him. The two couples decide to spend a weekend getaway together and this is where some issues in their relationships become evident. Back in the city, they are each forced to take a hard look at their lives and attempt to decide what will make them happy.

Writer/Director Joe Swanberg, who, when he isn't making movies like this, dabbles in the new horror cinema (he directed a segment in V/H/S), hits all of the high-notes of a "slice of life" film. We get slightly quirky characters who we see at work and at home. The bulk of the focus is on relationships. The dialogue has a free-form sound and we wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was mostly improvised. But, he always runs into one of the detrimental areas of sub-genre. These films often drop us into the middle of a situation and we must catch up. The problem is that we often get little-to-no backstory on the characters and that's certainly the case with Drinking Buddies. We don't learn things like how long Kate and Luke have worked together or how the couples first met. I realize that these are small things, but anything to help characters be more well-rounded always helps. My biggest questions had to do with Kate -- she's clearly damaged-goods and would much rather stay out drinking with the boys instead of working on a relationship. But, what started this pattern?

That nitpicking aside, Swanberg does create an intriguing feel with Drinking Buddies. Perhaps it's his association with horror, but the movie is actually somewhat suspenseful and there is a sense of tension here. We know from the outset that something is going to go wrong with one of the relationships and waiting to see just how and when this will happen creates a palpable sense of anxiety in the viewer. The interesting thing is that we aren't necessarily rooting for any one person to succeed, and there's still tension. However, Swanberg is unable to maintain this throughout and the ending, while it does ring true, feels like a bit of a letdown. The acting here is very good and it was interesting to see that both Wilde and Kendrick went for more a drab look here -- Wilde looks like she isn't wearing any makeup at all. Livingston plays another laid-back guy and Johnson is likeable, despite his beard.

Without coming out and using the term, Drinking Buddies explores the very common occurrence of the "work spouse" and shows how it can effect people and their perceptions of relationships. As with any "slice of life" movie, some may find it boring, but I felt that Swanberg laid out just enough bread-crumbs to make me wonder what would happen next. The movie does drag at times and feels sort of redundant in the third act, but this doesn't change the fact that it's a brave look at the ups and downs of being in love.

Drinking Buddies made me wonder if people who work in breweries really do drink on the job on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing on overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good and natural and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture does get a tad soft at times, but otherwise the level of detail is fine and the depth is good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.4 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a dramedy, we don't get an abundance of notable audio effects here. The bar scenes provide some mild stereo and surround effects, as do the moments in the brewery. The music sounds fine and provides some mild bass effects.

The Drinking Buddies Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Joe Swanberg, Producer Andrea Roa, and Producer Alicia Van Convering. The Disc contains fourteen DELETED SCENES which run about 7 minutes and offer commentary from Swanberg. This is presented as a reel of the scenes and they are all brief -- this feels more like deleted shots. We get INTERVIEWS with Wilde (4 minutes), Johnson (2 minutes), Kendrick (3 minutes) and Livingston (3 minutes), all of who discuss their experiences on the film and their views on their characters. "AXS TV: A Look at Drinking Buddies" (3 minutes) is like an extended preview with comments from the cast (which come from the interviews we just watched). "All Things Drinking with Director Joe Swanberg and Drinking Made Easy Host Zane Lamprey" (30 minutes) has the two men having a drink and discussing beer and movies (a little bit). "Behind the Scenes at Revolution Brewing" (4 minutes) takes us through the beer-making process. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long