As much a shining example of an improvised film that works as an example of one that doesn’t, Drinking Buddies is nevertheless solid romantic comedy. The film's barebones plot concerns two couples in their late 20's who decide to spend a weekend away together, only to realise they’re actually with the wrong people. With Olivia Wilde taking the reins as leading lady and Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston in the co-starring roles, the film’s lack of a formalised script is never too obvious. Wilde is wonderfully natural in the role and it’s a true refresher for an actor whose back catalogue is plagued with overtly stylised Hollywood films. Johnson, too, proves his antics on TV show New Girl aren’t derived from anything but his own genuine comedic timing. The film revolves around the hushed relationship between these two and the scenes they share truly lend the film a cinematic air.
While you may think of names like Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen and Will Ferrell when you hear ‘improvised comedy’, Joe Swanberg’s direction opts for a more fly-on-the-wall approach, prioritising natural and emotional over cracking-wise. Being a major proponent in the micro-budget drama scene with films like Hannah Takes the Stairs and Alexander the Last, his work distances itself from the average mainstream fluff. So much so that Swanberg orchestrated the production of Drinking Buddies in such a way that the actors often turned up on set without a clue as to what they were filming that day. While the performances from the exceedingly talented cast ended up being perfectly struck, you are simply watching true-to-life conversations. It’s a nice change of pace for a film of this nature, but Swanberg's fresh style gets bogged down in tackling the well-worn themes recycled by his bigger budget counterparts.