It's an age-old story: A male and female friendship veers past the line of appropriateness with (or without) alcohol. In Drinking Buddies, Joe Swanberg (the king of the microbudget film/writing, directing and producing all of his movies) takes a new approach to this time-honored storyline. Instead of laying on the drama real thick (as with a friendship/romance like Dawson and Joey's--come on, you know I had to go there), Swanberg builds the tension in such a subtle and unexpected manner that you can't even see the buildup to Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke's (Jake Johnson) ultimate moment of truth coming.
As a party and event planner for Revolution Brewery in Chicago, Kate spends most of her days acting as just one of the guys--drinking beer, talking shit, playing pool, etc. Among her favorite members of the brewery group is Luke, an all-around "good guy" type who already has an equally "good girl" type of a girlfriend named, what else, Jill (Anna Kendrick, who seems to me to be one of those actresses you can't quite pinpoint the reason why you dislike so intensely). Kate, her polar opposite, is the natural representation of "the whore" in Luke's world of stereotypes. At a particularly huge party, Kate decides to finally introduce her boyfriend of eight months, Chris (Ron Livingston, in one of his typically "blah" roles), to the rest of the gang. From the outset, Chris' attraction to Jill is overt, though--in Swanberg fashion--guilefully portrayed.
When Chris invites Jill and Luke to his house in Michigan, the potential for Shakespearean betrayal escalates. However, instead of Kate and Luke doing the betraying, as you would expect, it is Jill who lets her lustful yearnings get the better of her, engaging in a kiss with Chris that she later refers to as "pathetic and gross." Though a dalliance with Luke is Kate's main aim when she agrees to build a bonfire with him on the beach in the late hours of the night, nothing comes of it when she tries to lure him into the water for some skinny dipping. When the quartet returns to Chicago, Chris immediately breaks up with her. The following morning, Kate seizes the opportunity to announce her breakup to all the brewers and demand, "Tonight, no one is going home to their significant other because I no longer have one." Perhaps imagining that this is going to be his grand chance, Luke becomes vexed when Kate starts overtly flirting with another of their co-workers, Dave (Ti West).
Constantly toeing the line between friend and lover, Luke, is, in many respects, more of a tease than Kate. After Jill, racked with guilt over her impure act, decides to leave for Costa Rica with some friends for a week, Luke and Kate quickly fall into an old married couple routine. Offering to pay for her dinners, help her move (about which Kate rightly notes, "You don't wanna help me move. Moving is what goes on in hell.") and generally entertaining her fantasy that they could be together, it seems as though a bit of infidelity is inevitable. As the sexual tension between them amplifies, so, too does the symbolism. As Luke and Kate carry her couch out her apartment, Luke's hand is stabbed with a nail. Christ-like implications aside, it happens at a moment when Luke and Kate have almost gone too far in their affections for one another.
In the midst of this move, Kate finally lets her true feelings be known, calling Luke out for wanting to have it both ways: Making her feel like a slut for wanting to go out with other guys, yet not offering to make a so-called honest woman out of her. Johnson, who is no stranger to playing roles that involve pushing the boundaries of friendship (New Girl) acts this part to perfection, revealing how truly torn he is between two women. Of course, Swanberg, somewhat legendary for his undetermined endings stated, "It's hard for me, knowing how uncertain the world is, to put a certain, definite ending on a movie. I feel like I'm hopefully hinting that there's a resolution without it being cemented down, or hammering you over the head with it." Personally, I'm rooting for Kate, but we all know men never actually want to marry "the whore," now do they?