Kate (Olivia Wilde) works at a brewery where today she has been asked to help co-ordinate an event to promote its beer, which involves her making a whole load of phone calls. But she doesn't mind so much because she enjoys the camaraderie of her job, especially with the closest thing to a best friend she has there, Luke (Jake Johnson), who she shares an informal relationship which often sees them making jokes and acting up in one another's presence. They both have romantic partners, Kate with Chris (Ron Livingston) and Luke with Jill (Anna Kendrick), and they seem to be happy with them, but when they organise a trip they can all go on could they be placing their happiness in jeopardy?
The list of wholly improvised films is not a long one, probably because it takes so much time to set up a movie that most of those involved, particularly the backers, would prefer to know what at least the story was about before they got into it. Director Joe Swanberg was a prolific independent who was brave enough to tackle such a project, and so it was that when he and his cast began shooting on Drinking Buddies they were not entirely sure of where they would end up. One thing becomes apparent early on, and that was the actors were happier when they could improvise with a drink in their hand; we were told that they used fake alcohol most of the time, which is just as well since they would be absolutely slaughtered if it were otherwise.
Seriously, you half expect the plot to end on a sad note as one or more of the characters expires from liver damage, but maybe even partaking of the fake stuff offered them a sort of thespian Dutch courage as a placebo effect to get them through each scene. They even drink at work! It was well seen they worked in a brewery as that might have influenced the way the trappings went as well, but really we were supposed to be concentrating on the romance, or lack of it, between the four main players which without a script to guide them wound up meandering without much purpose. If we were intended to regard this as "just like real life" then you imagine some viewers' real lives were like this, and it was true the loose, casual mood to every scene had the ring of authenticity.
Or maybe we were just used to seeing that authenticity portrayed by actors in the style of the stars of this, in the movies at any rate, as these performers were very much of a piece with their peers, who tended to approach a part in much the same way, at least as the results on the screen conveyed. Once we wade through the bits with the characters hanging out, which was admittedly most of the movie, we could understand against the odds a point had been made, which was all to do with the bond between Kate and Luke. First, however, we were offered the holiday sequence where a previously stable state of affairs is jeopardised by, well, an affair. Or was it? In the editing Swanberg was confident enough not to spell everything out so that we were in the dark as to how far Chris and Jill had gone after that kiss they shared while out tracking in the forest.
Meanwhile Kate and Luke are getting along like gangbusters, which should have us thinking that they would make a great couple, better than their other halves anyway, except that wasn't entirely true. Basically the message was, don't spoil a friendship that is mutually beneficial by introducing love and sex into the equation because it will complicate things so much that you can never go back to where you were. Even if back where you were involved drinking heavily though cheerfully and playing with the food of your pal in scenes that look less like genuine behaviour and more like an air of desperation had settled over the set as Swanberg was geeing them up for yet another take where they had run out of things to do. This was advertised as a comedy, though there wasn't much here that would have you laughing out loud, and depended very strongly on your tolerance for the actor's equivalent of a noodling guitar solo, yet there are some films where the ending makes the journey worthwhile, and they came up with a really nice way of tying it all up.