Drinking Buddies does everything it sets out to do, but its lack of ambition means that it never rises above just entertaining and into something more meaningful. Perhaps the low stakes and carefree vibe are meant to mirror the mindset of its lead characters, but it means the film is pleasant to watch and leaves little impact.
The movie stars Jake Johnson as Luke and Olivia Wilde as Kate, two employees at a microbrewery. They are “work spouses,” eating lunch together, getting drinks after work, but always going back to their respective significant others at the end of the night. Their relationship feels quite real in its mix of sexual tension and time passing camaraderie. Things are complicated by the fact that Luke’s girlfriend, Jill, is very nice and a great influence on him. Kate is in a casual relationship with Chris, but fears commitment. As the film goes on, the four of them become entangled in a love quadrangle that threatens both their friendships and relationships.
Jake Johnson is a standout actor on The New Girl, the Fox TV series about four late 20s roommates living together in an LA loft, and the film in general feels like a more subdued take on themes and relationships of that show. Both explore the struggles of being in your late 20s, mixing friendship and relationships, and stuck between immaturity and adulthood. The film is more grounded, but in a lot of ways the manic energy of The New Girl feels closer to real life experience. Drinking Buddies is so committed to observing and remaining detached, that you watch things happen rather than feel them. Any given episode of New Girl contains both more laughs and as much emotional truth, with deeper, more fully realized characters.
In a lot of ways, Drinking Buddies is the kind of film that would have been refreshing in the 1970s, but today TV has so thoroughly monopolized quiet, character-based storytelling that you need a bit more from a film to make it worth watching. This is not a bad movie, but it’s one that won’t raise much passion either way.