Drinking Buddies Review: Growin’ Up

Drinking Buddies

“If you want to sing out, sing out, and if you want to be free, be free, because there’s a million things to be, you know that there are.” ~ Cat Stevens

Lately, it seems as if every other film or television show is said to define a generation. Girls, for instance, speaks to the struggling twenty-somethings in New York City who came of age under George W. Bush and Facebook. Spring Breakers, on the other hand, is supposed to represent the wild and out of control youth of today who apparently listens to dubstep, drinks jungle juice, and has threesomes in pools. And then there is The Bling Ring, which uses a story of celebrity obsessed criminals to symbolize contemporary culture’s obsession with fame.

All of these films may in some way speak to Generation iPod (is that what we’re being called?), but perhaps the most accurate and achingly authentic depiction of today’s twenty-something American culture is Drinking Buddies. The film, which is written, directed, and edited by Joe Swanson and stars Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, and Ron Livingston, offers insight into the lives of young adults who are old enough to live on their own (or with significant others) but not quite old enough to figure out what to do next. They have their apartments, their jobs, their friends, and even their lovers…so now what?

As the title implies, much of the film centers on the four characters as they hang out and drink with one another. A lot of the film’s success rests upon the execution of small moments that serve to reflect the reality of existence and the way humans interact. Consider, for instance, a scene early in the film in which Kate (Wilde) and her best friend Luke (Johnson) have a drink at the bar after work. The scene is small and simple, as Luke’s girlfriend Jill (Kendrick) meets up with them presumably at a later time because she was held up doing something else. The night is about to end and Luke asks Jill if she wants another drink. Jill refuses, but Luke buys one for himself. Jill appears to be okay with it, but there is a slight look in her face and a tone in her voice that Luke cannot detect which suggests that Jill understands her boyfriend’s drinking problem and is not okay with it.

These characters–and perhaps this generation–are college graduates who partied hard, studied hard, and found a way to come out unscathed on the other side. As twenty-something college graduates, they are old enough to secure paying jobs that can buy them their own apartments away from their parents, but they still hang on to the glory days of college and the freedom and liberation it gave them.

As a twenty-something New York City dweller myself, I found this film to be immensely relatable. Am I an alcoholic because I go to the bar numerous nights of the week and drink with my friends? If this was acceptable behavior in college, is it suddenly unacceptable after college? Where do we draw the line, and what separates a person who parties from a person who has a drinking problem? At one point, if ever at all, will the characters in the film go from being drinking buddies to one another’s AA sponsors?

Then there is the film’s depiction of romantic love and contemporary relationships. My generation is privileged enough to live in a world where marriage and family isn’t the number one priority anymore (I speak, of course, generally about American culture). But the advent of social media, dating apps, and the aftermath of feminism and suburban ennui has also left us flippant, indecisive, and flighty. We know that we don’t need to settle down and have children, to be sure, but we also have within us the idea that any relationship is too much of a self-sacrifice, and that monogamous love might be a thing of the past.

The characters in the film grapple with this predicament. Luke and Jill love each other but they aren’t sure if they should marry each other and settle down, even though it might be something that both of them want. Maybe they don’t know what they want–that’s part of it–but I think they don’t know what they want because they came of age with a generation who didn’t have anyone telling them what they should want. That is, parents weren’t selling the marriage shtick to us as it was sold to them, probably because our parents didn’t find marriage all that satisfying and wanted us to consider the alternative in the hope that it might be better.

And the question the film asks, I think, is whether or not the alternative, whatever it may be, is better. Is our generation who went to college and had intellectual conversations about Camus while sharing a cigarette and a drink with a stranger at a party really that much happier than our parents who didn’t necessarily go to college and instead settled down with one career and one family?

We have the freedom and liberation to do what we want, for the most part, and we aren’t bogged down by the social conservative constraints that our parents and grandparents fought. Contemporary technology keeps us connected all of the time, and it is almost impossible to “miss out” on anything when everyone we know is on Facebook or Twitter. In his book on contemporary Hollywood cinema, Tino Balio describes our generation (and by our, I mean mine, and by mine, I mean the twenty-something American college graduate) as the “I want it for free generation.” Maybe Balio is right. Maybe after all of the struggle our parents and grandparents had to face in order to give us the kind of wonderful life we have, we want to do with it whatever the hell we please. As Miley Cyrus sings in her song “We Can’t Stop,” “It’s our party we can do what we want.”

Drinking Buddies acknowledges this, and ultimately questions whether or not too much freedom is just as stifling as none at all.


What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Jon Lisi is a PhD student who writes about film, television, and popular culture. You can follow his work here: http://jonlisi.pressfolios.com/.

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  1. Eftimie

    I thought the acting was very good but the writing was a little too casual for my taste. With that noted, I liked this review.

  2. Joel Easter

    The people that like this movie strike me as the types that like TV shows such as “New Girl”. Light, easy to take content that doesn’t challenge the viewer, and simply provides an approachable experience – drama on training wheels so to speak. That is not a bad thing by the way.

  3. My wife and I got to see a screening of this movie during Seattle IFF. The director did a 20 minute Q&A session with the audience afterwards, it was a lot of fun.
    I don’t understand why it’s been getting so much negative reviews. Happy to read a positive one. This was a good movie. Period.

  4. Camille Brouard

    Love the review, you’ve sold me on seeing this film 😀 and as for the question about drinking, I’m not sure – I’m still at University and though not a very regular drinker (usually once a week, occasionally twice) when I do drink I consume at least 2/3 times the recommended daily limit so… huh. I wouldn’t say I have a drinking problem, but live in a culture (woo Britain) imbued with the idea that drinking is, dare I sum it up so, cool. Drinking a crazy amount and acting like a fool and crashing into bed at 4 a.m. is the done thing, something to look up to (and do) as a starry eyed teenager. Even passing out in weird places or throwing up everywhere becomes a funny story, a way for your mates to embarrass you in a friendly way, instead of a total and mortifying regret. I don’t know if it’s healthy, but heck – it’s fun. I love my usual Saturday night of drinking and dancing around to metal/grunge at a local club, I just try not to get to ‘no control over myself’ stage xD

    One last thing – your mention of feminism as a contributor to ‘flippant, indecisive and flighty behaviour’ sent up little alarm bells of ‘uh oh, someone’s going to take offence!’ in my head. I guess that’s a nicer way of saying that I disagree. As a relaxed type of feminist (I like to think we’re not mythical creatures) it doesn’t bother me that much, but I think that suburban ennui and feminism are concepts of differing complexity and subject matter that can’t really be weighted equally as reasons for something else, particularly in only passing comment. Apart from that I really enjoyed reading your thoughts!

    • Jon Lisi
      Jon Lisi

      Thanks for your comment. I figured that the feminism bit might ruffle some feathers. It’s important to note that I speak generally most of the time (a stylistic choice because you can’t really make any claims without doing so because there will always be exceptions), but essentially I’m trying to say that all of these things have caused my generation to feel as if settling down/romantic love is a bad thing or at least not something to aspire to. But I understand where you’re coming from and it could have used more explaining.

  5. Vic Millar

    Just watched this movie last night and really enjoyed it. The editing is what brought it all together for me, especially in the scene where it’s cutting between the two playing blackjack and the two on the hike. Great review.

  6. Forshee!

    I just watched it last night – the acting performances were pretty good, but the storyline itself bored my SO and me to tears. Based on the trailer, I wanted to like this, but it never engaged me, except for one scene where Olivia Wilde actually showed some emotional response to an event which upset her character.

  7. David Tatlow

    I’m a big fan of what Joe Swanberg has done before, and I was going to see this film regardless of what any review said, but your review has increased anticipation hugely. Thanks for relating the film to yourself too – I don’t think that more popular review sites would allow such an invested take on a film in their reviews, so it’s great that this site let’s this happen. Great work!

  8. Ashli Hendricks

    Can’t wait to watch this movie based on your review! You brought up fantastic points. Partier versus alcoholic is such an important question. And I loved the insight you brought to non-monogamy, particularly as I’d considered social media, feminism, and ennui, but not their intersection.

  9. This sounds like a really interesting film; I’m looking forward to seeing it. As another feminist, I do agree with Camille’s comment, but great article otherwise!

  10. Kevin Licht

    This is one of my favorite films I’ve seen this year. This is a film that could have turned into such a clichéd romantic comedy with all the systematic characters audiences can recognize from a mile away (Ron Livingston’s character could have been such a mess). I felt that many of the performances, as understated as they were, really helped this from becoming something ridiculous.

  11. I just saw this movie and loved it. This review is just as good.

  12. “All of these films may in some way speak to Generation iPod (is that what we’re being called?)…”

    This definitely dates the article. Very interesting from an anthropological perspective.

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