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Movie review: ‘Drinking Buddies’

Posted 5:23pm on Thursday, Sep. 05, 2013

R (strong language); 90 min.

It’s a tired Hollywood maxim that gorgeous actresses have to dress down and frump up to be taken seriously in their craft. Take that far enough — as the statuesque goddess Charlize Theron did in Monster — and there’s an Oscar in it for your trouble.

Olivia Wilde loses the makeup that made her the fanboys’ feminine ideal in Tron and Cowboys & Aliens and turns believably, charmingly working-class for Drinking Buddies, a wistful romance about couples wishing they were couples with someone else.

And in this case, some of these lovers have a first love: beer.

Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are old friends who work in Chicago’s Revolution Brewing — he’s in production, she’s just “one of the boys,” even though she works in marketing, setting up tastings, beer tents at public events and the like. They spend their days joshing with the team and enduring the boss (Jason Sudeikis), and their nights swilling the stuff they make and sell at a bar, The Empty Bottle.

Kate’s a little bit too much “one of the boys” for her bookish beau, Chris (Ron Livingston). She doesn’t see that. Luke kind of does.

And when Luke takes up with cute special-ed teacher Jill (Anna Kendrick), Kate shows a glint of jealousy.

It’s only when they go off for a couples’ weekend at a cabin in the woods that this simmering mismatched chemistry is put on the stove and allowed to boil over.

Joe Swanberg, a prolific director in the recent, chatty-indie “mumblecore” tradition ( Nights and Weekends is his best), creates a convincing, lived-in world, and he and his actors cook up dialogue that feels real, uncluttered, yet poetic.

The setup is predictably awkward and worn, but what they do with it and where the story takes us has plenty of surprises.

Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas

— Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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