18 October 2013

LFF 2013 Part III: Drinking Buddies

There's a whole lot of plaid in Joe Swanberg's new mumblecore film Drinking Buddies. Plenty of beards too, and trucker hats. Despite this, in this Q&A with Swanberg after the screening of his film at the London Film Festival tonight, one of the older members of the audience felt compelled to ask why the characters were using such old-fangled record players. Perhaps he was being ironic. Maybe Swanberg should have taken that final step towards hipster-dom and just set the film in Portland instead of Chicago. Who knows? After last night's surprise film, I was just happy to see an entertaining, intelligent indie romance about people sorta like me.

Drinking Buddies cast and crew: cinematographer Ben Richardson,
Anna Kendrick and Joe Swanberg.
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson plus some epic facial hair) work together in a cool little brewery. The only female employee, Kate is one of Gillian Flynn's "cool girls" — she likes nothing more than going for a beer and shooting some pool with the guys. She has a boyfriend, Chris (Ron Livingston), with whom she seems to have almost nothing in common. Luke has a girlfriend too — Jill (Anna Kendrick), whom he's been dating since college — but despite this, there is obviously chemistry between Kate and Luke. This is polarised when the four go away together for a weekend at Chris's family cabin, when Kate and Luke just want to sit around playing drinking games while Chris and Jill want to go hiking, with wine and classy picnic sets.

The film explores the relationships of the two couples, but mainly focuses on the friendship — or is it something more? — between Luke and Kate. Nothing much really happens. There is a lot of sitting around drinking beer while having spectacularly inarticulate conversations about nothing much, or sometimes about important things that are hard to express. I thought all four lead performances were great, especially Johnson and Kendrick. Their characters' relationship and their issues felt very real. Wilde's character was a little harder to like, although I thought the actress's portrayal was three-dimensional and interesting. Overall, I liked the film a lot, and not just because I identified with some aspects of the characters. It was nicely paced, sharp and, well, realistic.

After the screening, Kendrick and cinematographer Ben Richardson joined Swanberg (who also played the part of 'angry guy in car') on stage for a Q&A. The film was born out of the way Swanberg was fed up of being condescended to in movies, particularly those about relationships. He wanted to make the kind of romantic film he liked to watch — and about people like him and the people he knows. I think he succeeded: it was intelligent, sharp and adult, but also sweet and funny at times.

As expected, it was revealed that there were no scripts. In fact, Kendrick noted that she didn't even get a written summary of the film ("I received zero paper," she said), just a brief phone call with Swanberg. There wasn't much in the way of rehearsals either, Swanberg admitted, as lots of the scenes were based around conversations the actors had had in real life, such as scheduling a time to talk about getting married. The lack of script also gave the director more freedom: it meant he didn't have to ask the actors to stop doing the things he liked about them, which contributed to his reasons for hiring them in the first place. Kendrick found remembering the choreography more challenging than remembering what her character would have to talk about in each scene. Where did that beer bottle go again? Still, if she thought she had it bad, just think of poor Ben Richardson!

This concludes my 2013 London Film Festival experience. Next year, I must try really hard to keep October a little freer in my diary!

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