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Drinking Buddies (2013)

Okay guys, this will be the last post written by me (key words “written by me”) for a little bit. TIFF is officially underway today and I am soon to be on my way downtown for the festivities. So for the next 10 days, I’ll try my best to post reviews for the films I see at the festival as quickly as I can. Look forward to a new segment launching tomorrow. Oh, and let me know what you think of the new site layout/set-up!

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Very rarely does a film so authentically capture the bittersweet, infuriating, and most private moments of a relationship. Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” accomplishes this feat with flying, albeit, melancholic colours through the observation and dissection of multiple, interweaving bodies. Perhaps what’s even more disconcerting than the film industry’s inability to steadily and genuinely recreate films that display such universal emotions, is its refusal to acknowledge and rigorously promote the ones that do. Regardless, “Drinking Buddies” is poignant, funny, and adamant in its portrayal of disheartening, yet rewarding bonds. Tossed in alongside Swanberg’s swift, structural direction and marvellous performances from the entire cast. This whimsical, visceral romantic comedy has overcome its limited release and every obstacle thrown to steal even the most critical cinephiles heart.

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Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson) are good friends and co-workers and at a Chicago brewery. The two spend their days working and the nights drinking with their co-workers and significant others. And even though the two are very flirtatious with one another, they are very devoted and in love with their other halves. Kate is with Chris (Livingston) and Luke is with Jill (Kendrick). While Jill and Luke occasionally discuss marriage, they both agree the timing is not right. Soon, the two couples paths cross and they eventually become good friends. Having planned a weekend at a cottage together, the couples prepare for a night amongst the wilderness, but are soon faced with difficult, life-altering decisions and situations. Trust me, it’s not what you think.

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Granted, there isn’t anything overly unique about the themes or settings, and the story is nothing we haven’t heard before. That being said, much like another dramatic rom-com released earlier this year entitled “The Way Way Back.” The familiarity and well-intended cliches sprinkled, intentionally throughout “Drinking Buddies” are overrun by subtle quips, endearing circumstances, and situational laughs carried out by enthralling, relatable characters and heavy, yet luminescent direction. Writer and director Joe Swanberg is superlative both behind the camera and on paper. This results in his most mature, complete offering to date, which is without question, his best. “Drinking Buddies” might come off a bit bland, appear uneventful, and the ending a little too ambiguous for those diluted by the horrid, hackneyed mainstream rom-coms. Nonetheless, to those who can handle the reality of looking in a mirror, “Drinking Buddies” is nothing short of spectacular.

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What I find to be the most original and well-utilized aspect of “Drinking Buddies” is Swanberg’s ability to poke fun at our vulnerability and stupidity as we succumb to this illusive, complex, intangible cohesiveness called love. Which, by the way, Swanberg portrays effectively and genuinely. I mean, he isn’t simply degrading what ultimately gives our life meaning without direction or purpose. The hilarity throughout “Drinking Buddies” has definition and is a “funny because it’s true” type of humour. While openly mocking our most weak, honest selves might seem a tad cruel. This film and its easily accessed connectivity is a much needed release, I’d even go as far as to brand it a muse. Although not out-loud, body-aching knee-slappers. Swanberg’s comedic prowess evokes an array of reaction and emotion that bewilders, uplifts, and saddens.

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Speaking of cohesiveness, it is something Swanberg and his brilliant cast ooze with. Starring the striking Olivia Wilde and graceful Anna Kendrick alongside the flexible, yet formidable duo of Ron Livingston and Jake Johnson. “Drinking Buddies” has performers and performances that radiate with talent and believability.

Undeniably, Olivia Wilde steals the show. She’s funny, smart, beautiful, heartbreaking, just to name a few off the top of my head. I hate to sound like I’m firing off a list of cliched personality traits used in every romantic comedy ever, but I can’t deprive you of the truth. Jake Johnson is nearly as impressive as Wilde, but is outdone, minimally albeit. His performance bursts with the wonder and yearning of a kid in love, mid free-fall. Everything about him is relatable, truthful, hilarious, and empathetic. Anna Kendrick is massively effective in her supporting role. No matter how enraged and disappointed you feel towards her character, she always lures you back into understanding and leaves you completely smitten. Livingston, although the least used, arguably provokes the most diverse reactions. He gives a phenomenal, thorough performance without hesitation or regret.

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Sweet, honest, and utterly entrancing. Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” is the sleeper hit of 2013.

Drinking Buddies: 9 out of 10.

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The Company You Keep (2012)

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Usually, a script is the foundation, the jumping off point for any picture. Now, when this screenplay, charged with the task of holding your film steady, is flimsy to begin with. Everything that follows, camerawork and acting and so on, can be nothing but disappointingly weak due to the faulty skeletal structure baring a majority of the weight. This neatly sums up what is essentially wrong with The Company You Keep. Apart from some good, albeit typical performances from a few of its cast members, The Company You Keep really has nothing new or captivating to offer, which can be said for a lot of Robert Redford directed pictures since the year 2000. I have nothing against Mr. Redford. I thoroughly appreciate his acting prowess and directing skills. However, it appears that since the new millennium, his artistic choices have severely dropped off.

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Jim Grant (Redford) is a recently widowed single father. Formerly part of the Weather Underground militant wanted for a 1970’s bank robbery and the murder of one of the security guards. Ben Shepard (LaBeouf) decides to make a name for himself by creating a national story from the recently arrested Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), also a member of Weather Underground. Ben visits his ex-girlfriend Diana (Kendrick), an FBI agent, and urges her to hand him information on the case. While Jim continues to evade the law, Ben keeps pushing for his story, intervening in issues beyond his control. When Ben meets up with a retired cop named Henry Osbourne (Brendan Gleeson) after harassing Jim’s brother Daniel (Cooper) for information, he is taken with Henry’s daughter Rebecca (Marling). As the situation progresses, Jim and Ben find themselves in life altering predicaments.

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This was by far the most disappointing film I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival this past year. Upon reading up before hand on the plot, director, and cast, it was fair to say I was readily looking forward to its premiere. Starring the likes of Brit Marling, Shia LaBeouf, Anna Kendrick, Chris Cooper, and of course Robert Redford, amongst countless others with proven track records, it seemed implausible that The Company You Keep would let me down. However, by the time we reached the summit of its two hour runtime, the story and its characters were worn out. Even though it was plenty underwhelming from the get go. The Company You Keep arguably suffered from simplicity, irrelevance, and unsympathetic characters at a time when self preservation is on a decline.

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Based on Neil Gordon’s novel of the same title, Redford had his hands full adapting The Company You Keep to the big screen. In a year that saw history come alive with films like Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, and to an extent Django Unchained. The Company You Keep didn’t harness any of the retro nostalgia or tension that made all of those films effective. The performing aspect of the film was something I thought I’d never question going into the premiere. What I mean by typical performance is, for example, Marling, Cooper, LaBeouf, and Kendrick, to name a few, made it look effortless as usual. The root of the issue stems from the limitations brought on by the tedious nature of the script. There is no room for these fine actors to evolve their roles. They aren’t allowed to make these characters their own due to the suffocating similarities in their roles.

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Suffering from a bloated run time, stretched out story, and unlikable characters. The Company You Keep is a meek offering forcing its all star cast to under-perform and appear timid.

The Company You Keep: 5 out of 10.