Drinking Buddies: A Heartening Spin on the Romantic Comedy

Drinking Buddies

You meet someone. You like the cut of their jib. The way their baby-soft hair lies, their incandescent smile, the way they make you laugh so hard your lungs hurt. The problem? You have a significant other. The second problem? You have a good relationship with said significant other. So what do you do? Probably develop a borderline inappropriate friendship with appealing jib and try to suppress fantasies about a romantic entanglement with them.

This is the premise of Joe Swanberg’s new “mumblecore” film Drinking Buddies. The film is true-to-life, accurately depicting a dilemma many monogamous couples face at some point in their relationship.

Luke (Jake Johnson, of New Girl fame) works alongside Kate (Olivia Wilde—Thirteen of House) at a microbrewery. The two have obvious chemistry; can banter with the best of them; share a laid-back, fun-loving disposition; and easily make one another laugh. It’s electric, and you spend the movie waiting for their inevitable union.

Yet, Luke is entangled in a five-year-long relationship with Jill (played by one Miss Anna Kendrick). Luke and Jill also get along well and seem to genuinely enjoy one another’s company. Yet the chemistry isn’t nearly as electrifying as Luke’s with Kate. Although the two intend to get married, they are not actually engaged; rather, they have plans to eventually get engaged—something Luke is not yet ready to do.

As the movie progresses, Luke and Kate’s friendship grows more intimate and we wonder if Luke’s relationship with Jill is doomed. And we wonder if it should be doomed. We wonder if it’s an impediment to Luke uniting with his true soul mate.

The genius of the film (SPOILER ALERT) is that Kate and Luke don’t end up together. They don’t even kiss. And it’s incredibly heartening.

The thing is, being in a relationship doesn’t mean we stop being attracted to other people. We inevitably meet many people throughout our lives with whom we have chemistry and could even develop a healthy relationship. But, if we’re going to follow the monogamous path, we can’t be with all of them. We have to choose who we want to commit ourselves to.

Of course, choosing who we will commit ourselves to can be difficult; developing a crush on someone else compounds that difficulty. You might wonder what being with that person would be like. Would they be better in bed? More fun and exciting? All around a better partner?

But, as you fantasize about this person who’s not your significant other, the thing to remember is that it’s only a fantasy. The good qualities radiating from new crushes and even new friends tend to be amplified. Their wit or generosity feels novel, and you have not yet seen their less attractive qualities in full force. However, once you get a glimpse of the unsightly baggage they carry, they’ll likely tumble off the pedestal you’ve placed them on. You’ll feel a rush of appreciation for your partner, and wonder how you could’ve imagined being with anyone else.

And that’s what happens in Drinking Buddies. Not long after Luke and Kate become the most intimate they’ve ever been, they come crashing down from that perfection. The degeneration begins when Luke agrees to help Kate move and a rusty nail embedded in her couch gashes his hand open. Despite the blood profusely gushing from his hand, she shows little concern; rather, she expresses annoyance and disgust, gagging at the sight of his bloodied hand. Tensions continue to rise throughout the day, culminating in a screaming match after Kate blows off their dinner plans to hang out with some drinking buddies from work. At the end of it, Luke sees Kate in a new light—unreliable, unappreciative, and incapable of helping him when he needs it most.

Everyone has flaws. But we all have different levels of tolerance for specific kinds of flaws. Kate’s issues, once exposed, were not the kind Luke wanted to deal with on a day-to-day basis for the rest of his life. He wants someone who is dependable, kind, and caring—that’s Jill, not Kate. Luke realizes Jill is the person he wants to commit to. Because for all the sexy, adventurous women out there, Jill is someone he can care about forever.

On the Slate Culture Gabfest, Slate’s film critic Dana Stevens said she hopes Drinking Buddies is not the future of romantic comedy. Yet, the style and plotting of Drinking Buddies seem like a fine way for the Rom Com to go, given how realistic and relatable the film is. The current formula of the Rom Com tends to create an unrealistic depiction of what love is, a depiction that tends to muddy our own expectations for relationships.

If Drinking Buddies followed the traditional formula, Luke and Kate wouldn’t have had a blow out. Luke would’ve broken up with Jill and the final shot would zoom in on Luke and Kate entangled in one another’s arms, united at last. The implication then becomes that love is all about that initial rush you experience when you first develop feelings for someone. But it’s not. That’s not even love. That’s infatuation. And it’s refreshing when a movie actually acknowledges the distinction between the two.

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19 comments

  1. Spot on about the difference between infatuation and love. I also love this sentiment: “Their wit or generosity feels novel, and you have not yet seen their less attractive qualities in full force.”

  2. Your pros were spot on but i cannot see how Kate is unreliable and unappreciative. May you please explain how you got that from the film, and elaborate it with the scenes associated with those qualities.

    • Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. I found Kate to be unreliable and unappreciative partially based on the scenes referenced in that paragraph—her annoyance with Luke for cutting his hand and her unwillingness to help him, and, in particular, her blowing off their dinner plans. Considering that Luke spent two days helping her clean her filthy apartment and move all of her furniture, it personally struck me as ungrateful to blow him off. However, I will say that my perspective on the situation has changed a bit since first viewing the movie. I don’t know that I still fault Kate for her behavior during the move, because it could have been a result of her realizing that her relationship with Luke had crossed a line, given that he was already in a serious relationship.

      • Roger, i totally forgot about the dirty apartment, it makes sense now. You are right, it was only an infatuation, i have been brainwashed by how hollywood makes their romance movies nowadays that when you finally see true love in film, I go like wtf am i watching, but this is how it really is. We need more flicks like this. Keep on analyzing those indies!

      • Wow, I really interpreted that scene totally different than you.

        To me, the moving in to a new apartment scene clearly states to Luke that if he wants Kate, he can have her. But she is annoyed at him because he can’t be playing house with her if he does not want her. That’s why she later refuses to go out to dinner with him. That of course makes Luke think about his decisions in life. When his girlfriend confesses cheating on him (which of course he figured out, since no one is that dumb) even though he kissed his girlfriend, probably it won’t last in the long run. The final scene between Kate and Luke to me shows that they are still best buddies, the have made up and that’s it.

        Leaving it up to the viewer to assume that even though partners come and go, they still have each other, and probably eventually will end up together as well.

  3. I really like your spot on analyses. It really made it clear what I had missed before: that Johnson realized Kate was unreliable and that wouldn’t work for him. Man this movie is far too realistic, it messed with my head, so thanks for clearing that up.

  4. Fantastic review and discourse – thank you for sharing this. I loved Drinking Buddies — was disappointed that it didn’t turn out like a Rom Com (at first) – but after reading this, totally not. Because you’re bang on.

  5. I was really disappointed with the ending too, until I read your review. Thanks for clearing everything up and making the movie ten times better in my eyes, what a perfect review! The fact that it is so realistic and still sends such a powerful message is what makes it such an awesome movie.

  6. I disagree with this review. I think you put too much emphasis on Luke while this movie was more about Kate. The most important scene, in my opinion, was the argument Kate and Luke had in the end, over the dinner-date. Kate calling him out on his shit (which she finally fully realised after his handling of the angry driver, and him being jealous and possessive, even talking down their friends for no apparent reason) and he being incapable of handling it, having nothing to say. It’s sad Kate didn’t help him in the blood-scene, but that’s just who she is, she’s real. She’s the only one that is being her real self, while Jill, Chris and Luke are going through life with a facade. Jill is the warm, sweet girl wanting to be more of a bad girl and never coming to terms with that. Luke, so perfectly visualised with his cliché hipster-beard, thinks of himself as the relaxed, cool dude, a mask that gets ripped off by that nail and the driver. And Chris is just arrogant and trying to hide it. Actually they all are sortof hipsters, Kate too. But in the end I too was happy Chris and Jill ended up together. Not because Kate proved herself to be not good enough like you think, but because Jill and Chris are perfect together as the stay-at-home, pretending-to-be-cool, nice couple. They match together, while Kate is way to rough and real for any of that.

    But our varying opinions just proof what a great movie this is, as it showed very real people that we too meet everywhere, that we can see ourselves and others in, can relate too. Kate had her faults too, but I think she came out as the best out of all of them.

  7. This review is fantastic Melisa. I watched the movie and I was confused. I bet only reading thru your review makes me understand the bigger picture. Excellent writings. Good job. And the love and infatuation is spot on. Watching in 2015.

  8. Melissa, fantastic review. As many others, I was also confused after the ending. Your review cleared it up entirely, and like others, I echo your sentiments about the love/infatuation difference. Fantastic.

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