It's strange to think of widely popular actors and actresses as anything other than stars, but there's a palpable difference between being popular and being the real deal. Olivia Wilde has already had a busy career that'd be the envy of most actresses. Nobody can really argue against that, and yet between her big blockbuster work (TRON: Legacy, Cowboys & Aliens), indie films (Deadfall, Butter) and studio comedies (The Change-Up, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone), it still feels as though we haven't quite seen the extent of Wilde as a leading actress.
Drinking Buddies changes that. It changes it in a big, beautiful way. Not only is Wilde the lead of the film, but she's given so many rich opportunities to explore her comedic, dramatic and just plain human sides that there's no way that anyone can walk away from the film thinking she's simply a pretty face.
She plays the event organizer of a craft beer brewery in Chicago-- not exactly the most riveting base for a character ever, and yet Wilde transforms her into a complex, modern woman that thrives in a male-dominated environment. But it's not the gender politics in the movie that elevate Wilde's performance (though they're certainly all worth talking about), it's the way in which Swanberg and his lead actress navigate her through the lives of her coworker and best friend (Jake Johnson), his girlfriend (Anna Kendrick), and her own boyfriend (Ron Livingston).
This is a movie that's less about what any two characters say to one another and more about how close they are to one another when they say it. Drinking Buddies knows its way around human intimacy better than most movies can ever dream of; it knows the value of personal space, what it means when one person invites another in, and what it means when it's violated. It's a deceptively insightful film about the sanctity of commitment, what constitutes a truly innocent relationship, and how people take emotional ownership over one another without consciously realizing it.
All of that makes Drinking Buddies sound like a far heavier film than it really is, though. This isn't some dark, gritty indie about ruined lives. The title might imply that it's about alcoholism and addiction, but it isn't. It's not about having an affair or even about lusting after your coworkers. Drinking Buddies is about perspective and how two friends who are perhaps too close to one another can lose it. It's smart, funny, charismatic and, above all, resonant.
And although this piece started off being about Olivia Wilde's career-high performance, she's certainly not the only one who stands out. Anna Kendrick's deeply fragile performance reminds us that she can take the simplest character and make them instantly memorable, and Ron Livingston once again proves that he is the cosmic embodiment of casual, but equally worth raving about is Jake Johnson.
His recurring role on the immensely popular TV show New Girl has no doubt made him one of the most sought-after (relatively) new actors around, but it's his role here that may end up being a defining point in his career. He delivers one of the most down-to-earth, relatable, and effortlessly charming leading-man performances you'll not only see this year, but any year. There's just something about Johnson that seems out of phase with the traditional idea of a Hollywood leading man. He's magnetic and soulful in subtle ways and is the kind of actor you just want to watch no matter the material. Though given the roles he's actually taking on, it's clear that Johnson cares more about the material and less about what it's going to do for his bottom line as an actor.
It appears as though that's the case with everyone involved with Drinking Buddies. One of the most admirable things about it is that it seems like a movie that Swanberg and his incredible cast just had to make. Not because it's going to be an indie darling that rockets off of the festival circuit and on to the top of the box office charts (though it would in a world where the collective box office had much better taste), but because all involved felt like this movie gave them something to sink their teeth into. Thankfully not a single one of them bites off more than they can chew.
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