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Review: Craft Beer, Daft Tears, and the Meh Verisimilitude of Drinking Buddies

Do you like food? Do you like movies? Do you like movies about food? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might enjoy Eater at the Movies, a column by Joshua David Stein which examines eating and drinking on screen.

People very often go to movies for the same reason they drink beer: to drown their sorrows, to forget, for 90 minutes at least, that the meter in the taxi cab of life is still running. Beer and movies offer an escape from the crummy boring gunk of their lives. Depending on the intensity of a person's misery, he will either care or not care about the vehicle that delivers him to forgetfulness and, therefore, freedom. One who doesn't care is the reason Natty Ice exists, or any movie with Vin Diesel. One who is eager to forget but wishes to do so while consuming a quality ambrosia is why both craft beer and Joe Swanberg's romantic comedy about craft beer, Drinking Buddies, exist.

Swanberg is the boy king a genre of underwhelming, overperforming, low budget, poorly enunciated movies about minutiae called mumblecore. His 2007 feature, Hannah Takes The Stairs, both established the genre and launched its star Greta Gerwig on her stumbly mumbly way to moon-eyed stardom. Unlike in his earlier films, in Drinking Buddies Mr. Swanberg is endowed with two big assets: a quartet of biggish name stars and free run of a Chicago craft brewery, Revolution Brewing.

The story revolves around two couples: Luke and Jill, and Kate and Chris. They are normal seeming but better looking than either you or I. Luke is played by Jake Johnson, the guy from The New Girl, here with a full-on 5th stop off the L train beard. Kate is played by Olivia Wilde, who is very charming, beautiful and had Christopher Hitchens as a baby sitter. Jill is played by Anna Kendrick who I'll never forgive for that fucking cups thing from Pitch Perfect. And Chris is played by Ron Livingston. You know, the guy from Swingers, Office Space and... Dolly Parton's Straight Talk.

En bref, the plot is as follows: Luke and Kate are best friends who work at a craft brewery. Kate does sales and marketing. Luke is a brewer. They both drink a lot of beer. Like all they drink is beer and they drink it all the time. Jill, Luke's fiancée, is a special-ed teacher who drinks beer too, but, since she doesn't work at the brewery, with much less gusto and less often. Chris, the man Kate has been dating for nine months, does something or other. Point is, he doesn't drink beer. He drinks whisky and wine. Dick.

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Based purely on their alcohol intake habits, you'd be right in thinking Luke and Kate should be together while Chris and Jill make a perfect fit. In fact, that about sums up the movie: Luke and Kate like beer a lot. Jill likes beer kinda. Chris doesn't like beer. Apply those learnings to a potential love triangle (quadrilateral?) and you'll have at your fingertips the entire film. It is, to say the least, a bit schematic.

But it is interesting in what it says about how beer has become shorthand for shibboleth for the working man — remember the great beer summit of 2009? — whereas harder spirits and wine, have become metonyms for Don Draper-types who just don't get it, the swill for hegemonic tools like Ron Livingston. Beer is liquid class warfare. How fitting, therefore, that the film was set at Revolution Brewing, where beers are named things like Eugene Porter (presumably after the Wobbly leader, Eugene Debs), Coup D'Etat, a French-style Saison, and Bottoms Up Wit, a Belgian-style pale ale. See below. You pull the raised fist and beer comes out. Pretty literal.

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Mumblecore, though, never really was about what happened, as so much as how it happens. Swanberg, as the genre's standard-bearer, has dutifully crafted a movie where not so many things out of the ordinary transpires. Trust, mistrust, lust, missed connections, crossed signals, being single but seeing double, the humans who inhabit Drinking Buddies comport themselves exactly like you and I. Swanberg swims in endless patter of little profundity, verbal splashing in the shallow end of human intercourse. The film is instructive at mirroring just how empty our utterances are. In fact, its most interesting aspect is just how meh and undramatic it is.

Swanberg deserves a heap of credit for how effortlessly the story is set down. It's just like life, but a little more attractive: a lot is talked, little is said, some people drink beer. As opposed to other beery movies — like the totally debilitating Smashed — Drinking Buddies doesn't really offer much more than spending two hours in one's own life might. Same small problems, same ambiguity, same headaches, same enervating emptiness. And if that's the case, why not just stay home, toss back a couple of brews and wait for the credits to roll?

2/5 Stars

Video: Drinking Buddies Official Trailer

· Drinking Buddies [Official Site]
· All Eater at the Movies [-E-]

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