If you’ve got a taste for a domestic cold one today, don’t be surprised. Today is National American Beer Day. For all the grief given to Hallmark and other companies for their made-up holidays designed to sell chocolates and cards, there doesn’t appear to be any official provenance for this celebration. It’s noted and covered by various press, but it seems to have appeared from nowhere, like Orin on “Parks and Recreation.”
Good enough for me.
To join in the celebration, we’re going to jump not very far back to a movie I would have covered if it hadn’t landed in the years when I put movie marketing coverage to the side.
2013’s Drinking Buddies marked a turning point for writer/director Joe Swanberg. After years of working with almost no budgets and a cast made up largely of unknowns and friends, this time he had some pretty substantial names along for the ride. The story is focused on Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde), coworkers at a Chicago craft brewery. The two are best friends who hang out all the time and have the sort of easy, flowing relationship that seems like it should be romantic but isn’t. Luke is dating Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Kate is seeing Chris (Ron Livingston). Eventually, the friendship between Kate and Luke causes tensions in the other relationships, leading to lots of conversations and lots of additional drinking.
The movie’s theatrical poster uses that cast as its primary selling point. All four are seated on the floor, their backs up against what’s clearly the wall of a bar or drinking establishment of some sort, all with a glass of something in hand. Above them, their names and the title and credits are shown in a style like it’s all been written in chalk. The alcoholic nature of the story is conveyed not only by the beverages shown but by the copy declaring the movie is “A comedy about knowing when to say when.” Of course that’s not just about the drinking but about the nature of the relationship the story follows.
Oddly missing is Swanberg’s name, aside from its small inclusion in the overall credits. While the cinematic genre he is – or at least was – synonymous with is sometimes derided, his name still carries a fair amount of weight with fans of independent film. Using it would have been an appeal to that group.
Obviously Magnolia Pictures, which picked the movie up after some early screenings, felt it was better to not turn off any mainstream audiences who might not know him or only associate him with weird indie stuff without professional lighting. So he’s excised here, with the appeal to the general audience being made that it’s a pleasant story featuring a bunch of very likable actors obviously having a good time.
We immediately see what Luke and Kate do as the trailer opens. He’s part of the brewery crew and she’s more in the event planning and management part of the business, helping to coordinate receptions hosted there. They eventually introduce their significant others to their coworkers, which is a bit awkward but leads to the foursome heading off to a cabin for a weekend. That’s obviously presented as a turning point because Luke and Jill wind up having more serious conversations about their relationships and Chris breaks up with Kate.
It’s a pretty cut and dried romantic comedy being sold to the audience here. There’s some cool stuff around the edges, but that’s the gist. It’s about friendships and love and heartbreak and the general kind of “finding yourself” moments that everyone at this stage in life goes through. All the actors are charming and funny and breezy.
All that’s pretty accurate to the movie being sold. If anything, Wilde’s significant comedic sensibilities are underplayed in the campaign. Johnson and Kendrick are more of the focus since they were probably the hottest names at the moment, her coming off Pitch Perfect and him on TV’s zeitgeist-heavy “New Girl.”
More than that, it’s a fair representation of the relationships between the characters and the story as a whole. Most of the key beats are shown here as well as the evolving nature of how everyone interacts with each other. While the campaign didn’t result in a massive mainstream success for Swanberg, there were apparently some creative connections made as he would work with Johnson and Kendrick again on future films.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.