***1/2 (out of four)
In the immensely authentic, Chicago-made "Drinking Buddies," the chemistry between pals and Revolution Brewing co-workers Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Chicago native Jake Johnson of "New Girl") isn't the elephant in the room. It's a freaking Tyrannosaurus Rex in the room, so great is the natural dynamic between these friends who are both seeing other people.
Kate and Luke aren't alone in their uncertainty -- when Luke and his girlfriend, Jill (Anna Kendrick), join Kate and her boyfriend, Chris (Ron Livingston), for a lakeside Michigan weekend, the pairs quickly get tangled. Chris and Jill share ease and respect on a hike; Kate and Luke prefer to stay in and perpetuate a closeness they know grazes past platonic lines but enjoy too much to cool off.
The concept's familiar, but with his best film to date, writer-director Joe Swanberg ("Nights and Weekends") uses flailing monogamy and emotionally driven temptation to craft a film that overflows with truth. These characters handle some situations well and some badly, but always do so realistically. Once consumed with the mundane to the point of capturing nothingness, Swanberg delivers a film that's borderline effortless in its observation of relationships and portrayal of relatable characters. Casual flirtation explodes , with the fantasy of the non-relationship -- the friend who seems so ideal because there's actually no romantic accountability binding you two -- batting its eyes and daring everyone to wink back.
The cast bubbles with charm while giving each character his or her own fatal flaw. Yet Swanberg, despite a few developments that lack creativity, never pushes farther than he needs to or settles for easy answers. He also provides a great showcase for the bearded, booze-swilling Chicago that thrives on wood paneling and beer on tap.
The role of timing in relationships and the sometimes-delayed, gnawing virus of guilt is nothing new. But "Drinking Buddies" is streamlined and real like a new favorite song that both reminds you of something you already loved and gets you to see it with fresh eyes.
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