Thursday, August 22, 2013

DRINKING BUDDIES: Joe Swanberg's new best; ditto Olivia Wilde's starmaking perf

If TrustMovies hadn't already known that Joe Swanberg was the writer/director behind the new film DRINKING BUDDIES, he'd have never guessed. So focused is this film in terms of its screenplay and dialog and so attuned to that screenplay is Swanberg's tight direction that this film pretty much wipes the floor with the rest of this mumble-core movie-maker's oeuvre (some of which -- Alexander the Last and his episode from V/H/S -- TM has actually enjoyed).

Mr. Swanberg, shown at left, has often given us characters on the cusp of assuming responsibility for their lives and careers, but never before have the stakes seemed so high nor the price so steep. Nor have Swanberg and his previous casts appeared so heavily invested in the goings-on. (Too often, they -- and finally we in the audience -- have seemed most ready to take a nap.) This, more than anything else, is what gooses the movie out of the mire of mumblecore into the light of action. Holy hell: There's something important going on here!

Another first: While it can be said that all Swanberg's movies have involved a kind of character study, here at last we have characters worth studying. This seems to have energized Joe and his movie. Granted, he has his most professional and attractive cast to date, beginning with the woman who is in control of the movie (and not simply because she is one of its executive producers), Olivia Wilde.

Ms Wilde (above, left) has long been one of our most beautiful young actresses (those catlike eyes set into a face of such planes -- not to mention the alabaster skin -- all put me in mind of a young Gene Tierney) who only occasionally gets an opportunity, as in last year's Butter, to really surprise us. Drinking Buddies offers another of those surprises, as Wilde's character, Kate, a smart woman with an important job at the local brewery (home to several of the film's characters), who initially appears to have it all, slowly unveils herself as someone who has almost nothing -- except a too-strong craving for alcohol.

This role, which becomes less and less attractive as the movie rolls along, was a brave on for Ms Wilde to take on, but she does it more than justice, creating as full-bodied a character as we've seen all year. If small, independent movies were regularly viewed by Academy members, this performance would certainly be considered "Oscar" material.

Surrounding Wilde are several fine actors, including Jake Johnson (above, left) as Luke, her best friend at work, a fellow with whom she shares a rapport that is striking and quite wonderful. The pair seems made for each other -- except that Luke already has a sweet girlfriend named Jill (Anna Kendrick, above, right), and, in fact, Kate, too, has a significant other (Ron Livingston, two photos below). For awhile at least. Also on tap is Jason Sudeikis as the brewery's owner.

Swanberg's sense of pacing, along with his ability to tell a story, have grown exponentially. This movie remains as off-the-cuff and full of what sounds like spontaneous dialog as do the rest of his films, yet here our minds do not wander. There's too much at stake, and thanks to the smart accretion of detail and the fine performances from the entire cast, we care very much about these people, especially Kate, Luke and Jill.

Beer figures into the movie prominently, and each day, after brewery closing, our happy family of workers heads out to the local pub for some more carousing. Swanberg doesn't hit us with the wagging finger, but what with James Ponsoldt's evils-of-drink movie also currently making the rounds, American independent cinema may have a lesson or two to teach us.

Drinking Buddies, released via Magnolia Pictures and running 90 minutes, opens tomorrow, Friday, August 23, at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City and Landmark's Century Centre Cinema in Chicago. The following week it hits another ten cities, and then spreads out in a nationwide limited release over the following couple of months. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates with cities and theaters.

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