AUSTIN -- What is readily apparent from Joe Swanberg’s latest film “Drinking Buddies” is that the actors genuinely liked each other. In a press event following the film’s premiere at South By Southwest, Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick confirmed as much, and even more so.
After a particularly explosive scene between his character and Wilde’s, Johnson had to text Wilde later to ask, “Are we cool?” Kendrick exploded into tears following a high-tension scene with Livingston, not because the scene necessarily broke her heart, but because of a prospect of a scene to come, where she’d have to recall to Johnson -- her character’s boyfriend in the film -- of her indiscretion.
Such is the challenge and highlight of a film like “Drinking Buddies,” dubbed an “improvised movie” because it had no script. Johnson said, though, that doesn’t mean this ship had no captain. “There was a clear vision start to finish,” he said.
That vision was through the eyes of a woman, Kate, “heavily based” on the real life of Swanberg’s female friend who works at a microbrewery in Chicago, where this film is also set. It’s a portrait of being a woman in a man’s world, of wanting attention, wanting to be attained but also, as Swanberg said, “getting good at deflecting that male attention.”
Telling a story through Kate using improvisation was the whole point Swanberg said: being one gender and storytelling through the other is an “exploration.”
Jake, in the film, has a girlfriend, but spends the majority of the film hinting at romance with Wilde’s character Kate. “I’ve been Jake’s character in these kind of situations,” Swanberg explained. “I don’t know the women’s side of that story, which is why I want to make a film about it, to hopefully learn something. I feel almost allergic to [making] films that I’ve seen other people make and the truth is there’s just not that many films about women.”
“Hollywood could also be considered a little bit of a boys club,” Wilde said.
In a scene where her character Kate and Johnson’s Luke are at a tipping point in their sexual tensions, of being more than just “drinking buddies,” Wilde rants at him, for Luke’s criticism of her for having sex with someone after she’s newly single.
“It’s that phenomenon that happens when you can’t be with someone, but you still feel a sense of ownership over them. His judgement over me being with someone else [other than him] makes me feel so bad. I take it to the extreme, making the assumption about myself, like ‘What, you think I’m a slut?’,” Wilde said. “Even when he has no right to feel that way toward Kate, she still feels bound to him.
"That seemed very realistic to us… it’s certainly the idea of double standards, of men going out and sleeping with someone and it’s no big deal and ‘That’s great, he’s single, good for him. A girl doing that, though, it’s like ‘Whoa, well she’s spinning out.’ We wanted to make a point about that.”
Adding fuel to fire is alcohol, much of which was consumed during the making of "Drinking Buddies."
"I didn’t realize until I was editing how much you guys were drinking," Swanberg admitted to his cast.
"It's hard to fake beer," Wilde ascertained, while Kendrick explained that during one shoot, a drinking game, she was under the impression she was drinking non-alcoholic beer.
"That's the fastest I've ever seen a human being get drunk," one of her cohorts followed-up.
"I feel like filmmakers are small business people," said Swanberg, a home-brewer and craft-brewing aficionado. He made sure the cast had some experiences brewing beer and had the lingo down. "If a brewer watches this movie, nothing’s [there] to pull them out of it."