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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Drinking Buddies

Recently, I watched and quite thoroughly enjoyed Drinking Buddies, a 90-minute indie feature from director Joe Swanberg and featuring an improbably high-quality cast for such a low budget movie. Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde play co-workers at an independent brewery whose strong friendship has been obscuring a powerful attraction for a long time. Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston play their respective significant others, who discover a shared attraction of their own during a weekend trip to a remote cabin.

Working largely without a script, this talented foursome is able to create a believably lived-in feel to their characters and their circumstances as they all try to seek out their own happiness without hurting the people they care about too badly. It's a quintessential example of the human drama that can arise between any two people anytime, anywhere.

Which is why it's so disappointing to read criticisms of the movie that basically boil down to the tired old "white people problems" canard. This pernicious idea that certain types of people don't have stories worth telling is surprisingly persistent, even in otherwise intelligent and perceptive people. The false idea it supposes, that money and privilege can render someone's life free of conflict, pain, and humanity is wrongheaded, harmful, and downright depressing in its prevalence.

Never mind for a moment that the characters in Drinking Buddies are not exactly upper-class (Johnson's job is the epitome of blue-collar, Wilde works in sales, and Kendrick is a teacher.) Even if they were spoiled rich kids, whose to say they wouldn't be interesting anyway? Shakespeare wrote largely about kings and nobleman and I don't see too many complaints about his subject matter.

The film itself nicely anticipates and addresses this criticism. In one of their many heartfelt, drunken conversations, Wilde's Kate tells Johnson's Luke, "That's the problem with heartbreak, to you it's like an atomic bomb and to the world it's just really cliche, because in the end we all have the same experience."

It's that kind of universal relevance, rendered particular by the story-telling and the acting, that I look for in movies, wherever they may come from.

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