Most of the progenitors of the not quite movement tagged in the press as “mumblecore” have moved on. Earlier this summer, Andrew Bujalski — one of its pioneers — went deep into the abstract and weird with “Computer Chess.” Joe Swanberg, another of its members, goes the other way with “Drinking Buddies.” A prolific chronicler of relationships, Swanberg has favored superficially Godardian experimentation with self-consciously sloppy handiwork. Films like “Hannah Takes the Stairs” and “Nights and Weekends” don’t employ tripods, the frames are inelegant and the acting leans towards the kind produced during early rehearsals — all on purpose.
In addition to an attractive name cast, “Drinking Buddies” boasts a tripod, no experimentation and acting that’s loose only to the pampered likes of Olivia Wilde, its star. Wilde plays Kate, an employee at a craft beer brewery clearly in love with her fun-loving/-drinking coworker bestie, Luke (Jake Johnson). Luke is clearly in love back, but is newly engaged to Jill (Anna Kendrick). Kate buries her frustrations in another relationship, with the more mature Chris (Ron Livingston).
Most mumblecores detailed the lives of youngish adults stunted emotionally, vocationally and financially. “Drinking Buddies” carries the flame. There’s zero chance that either Kate or Luke will put voice to their feelings, and a 100-per-cent chance they will only act on them in ways that harms either themselves or others. The film, like “Funny Ha Ha” or “Humpday,” is stuck in a holding pattern, because that’s closer to what would happen to these people at this point in human history. They’re comfortably self-destructive, willing to toil in modestly paying jobs, even ones as empowering as beer brewing, while toiling in emotionally unfulfilling relationships for fear of courting potential real failure.
This world, though. has been detailed to near-death. However often perceptive and pleasant “Drinking Buddies” is — and it is, with the familiar cast uniformly excellent — it can’t help feel like a bid for mainstream acceptance that’s four or six years too late. Among the supporting cast made of indie filmmakers is Frank V. Ross, whose flms, including “Audrey the Trainwreck” and the new “Tiger Tail in Blue,” do something legitimately new and exciting within the vague “mumblecore” boundaries. A horror film like the new “You’re Next,” with Swanberg in the cast, is at this point honestly more forward-thinking than a Swanberg film with decent cinematography.