Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson work in a Chicago brewery - she's in the office, he's on the floor - but almost every evening after work they hit the bar. She's dating Ron Livingston and he's on the brink of asking long-time girlfriend Anna Kendrick to marry him but that doesn't stop the friends flirting incessantly with each other. When the two couples go away to a lake cabin for the weekend, events transpire to elevate the friendship to something more...
It's a tried and tested will they/won't they scenario but Joe Swanberg (V/H/S) avoids cliché at every turn. In regular rom-coms the respective partners would be painted as one-dimensional bores/nasties, thereby justifying and absolving our heroes' feelings towards each other, but it's actually Livingston and Kendrick that highlight Johnson's and Wilde's obvious immaturity.
Swanberg's opening scenes set the tone for this un-rom-com rom-com, using a handheld camera under harsh fluorescent lighting; it's as if to doll it up, to shoot his actors in flattering light, would be disingenuous. While avoiding conventions, Swanberg aims for familiarity: he knows that half the battle here is the audience recognising that they have been in a friendship that veered towards something else, enjoying its flirty nature and having fun ignoring it. That's Drinking Buddies' charm, and it's this that will hit home more than anything else. Plus the ad-lib approach from Wilde and Johnson works a treat.
Jake Johnson is no stranger to this unhurried style - apart from the scruffy bearded trucker look, he's not a millions miles away from his role in New Girl - but it's Wilde that's the surprise, playing that 'just one of the guys' girl she really gets stuck into the natural easiness of the role and has fun. Kendrick and Livingston do what they can with the short time they have but Jason Sudeikis' appearance is distracting - it's more than a cameo but less than memorable.
It's funny but not in a set-piece or one-liner way. It's busy but not in a plot development way. Swanberg manages to fill the running time with moments that usually make the cutting room floor and still manages to drive the story forward. Go see it.