The film premiered at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival, and also screened within Maryland Film Festival 2013.
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are co-workers at Chicago craft brewery Revolution Brewing, where they spend their days drinking and goofing off. They are perfect for each other because they both like to drink beer and speak in hipster clichés, but they are both in relationships. Kate is with Chris (Ron Livingston), and Luke is with Jill (Anna Kendrick). Jill is a nice and simple girl who enjoys drinking beer as well, whereas Chris is more of an introvert. Jill presses Luke about marriage, which he promises he will be able to talk about some time soon. Kate and Chris don't have that serious of a relationship, and it's obvious their differences play a role in that.
One day, Luke and Kate are drinking with co-workers, and Jill and Chris also show up. Chris invites Luke and Jill to join him and Kate for a trip to his family's cottage. During the trip Jill and Chris go for a long hike in the woods, where they end up kissing.
Luke and Kate spend the whole trip drinking and staying up late alone together, and end up having a bonfire together. Kate invites Luke to go skinny dipping before stripping off her clothes and running into the lake
After the group returns home, Chris finally realizes that him and Kate's differences and breaks up with her. Newly single Kate insists the whole brewery crew go out the next evening for drinks to celebrate her 'singleness.' That night she ends up sleeping with a co-worker, Dave. When Luke hears about this he is angry at both Dave and Kate and spends the whole day snapping at both of them, but eventually apologizes for his behavior. Jill decides to go away for a week with some friends from college. During this trip, Luke and Kate go out for dinner and fall asleep together on the couch. Luke agrees to help Kate clean out her old apartment and move the next day, and at the end of the day Luke falls asleep on the bed. Kate joins him.
The next morning, Luke and Kate keep moving and make plans to get dinner to celebrate when they are done. Luke cuts his hand badly while helping move a couch. Kate is squeamish about the blood and unhelpful. An impatient driver, blocked by the moving van, yells at them and starts a fight with Luke. After Luke ends up with a broken lip, Kate calls Dave and another co-worker to help finish the move. Dave invites Kate to go out for drinks, and she tells Luke that she wants to go, rather than going to dinner. Luke is annoyed, and an argument ensues.
Returning home, Luke finds Jill has come home early, and she is crying. She sees his injuries and while cleaning him up, confesses to kissing Chris while at the cottage. She tells Luke how guilty she feels about what happened, and that she really loves him and wants to marry him. Luke forgives Jill and lets her know that he still loves her and wants to marry her. The next day at work Kate and Luke awkwardly interact and then eventually end up sitting together at lunch. They each offer one another bits of their lunch before they crack a smile, and drink a beer.Olivia Wilde as Kate
Anna Kendrick as Jill
Jake Johnson as Luke
Ron Livingston as Chris
Ti West as Dave
Jason Sudeikis as Gene Dentler (credited as Gene Dentler playing "Himself")
The idea to set the film in a brewery came when director Joe Swanberg received a brewing set-up as a birthday present. According to Swanberg,
"I wanted to do something about Craft Beer [independent breweries] and set in the Craft Beer world but also I was inspired by Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, a Paul Mazursky movie. Just to tell a complicated adult [story] that was funny, that managed to remain funny even though it was getting into serious, interesting things."
The dialog was improvised. Instead of a script, the actors received outlines which covered the major plot points and were told each day what had to happen in that day's scenes. Relying heavily on improvisation is a key feature of the Mumblecore film movement. He said, "knowing that the structure was already pretty heavily in place, it was about letting the actors own their characters, and have a big say in the clothes that they wore, and in the interactions that they have with each other." He added: "The improv was used to mainly make the middle of the movie more complicated, and less predictable than a typical romantic comedy would be." Swanberg also stated "They need to be listening to each other and reacting honestly and I need to be paying really close attention because there’s not a script to fall back on. The goal of doing it that way is to keep everybody engaged and create situations that feel fun and natural".
Filming took place in Chicago, Illinois in July 2012. The film was shot in an actual brewery, called Revolution, where one of the female brewers named Kate was the basis for Wilde's character. The actors actually drank real beer during the filming and even did real work for the brewing company. Wilde would later comment that the cast was "hammered the entire movie"
The film concludes with an open ending with Swanberg stating "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."
Drinking Buddies has music supervised by Chris Swanson, Grant Manship and Kathleen Cook of Jagjaguwar. The soundtrack features Jag artists Foxygen and Richard Youngs, The Amazing and Richard Swift, as well as Plants & Animals, Here We Go Magic, Phèdre, and other additional artists.
Drinking Buddies received positive reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 83%, based on 110 reviews, with an average rating of 6.9/10. The site's consensus reads, "Smart, funny, and powered by fine performances from Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson, Drinking Buddies offers a bittersweet slice of observational comedy." At Metacritic gives the films a score of 71 out of 100, based on 32 critics, indicating "general favorable reviews".
A. O. Scott of The New York Times remarked "Mr. Swanberg’s camera weaves through bodies at rest, at work and at the bar in no particular hurry, and his script captures the idioms of men and women who are equally inclined to waste words and to say very little. But the busy tedium of their lives is given shape and direction by the skill of the cast and by the precision of the director’s eye, ear and editing instincts."
Upon the film's UK release, Peter Bradshaw gave the film three stars out of five, calling it "a lo-fi relationship drama that is interesting, if unevenly presented...an intriguing and distinctive story, soberly told"; according to Bradshaw, "Swanberg interestingly shows how booze loosens them up, lowers their inhibitions, and yet blurs their emotional reactions, in the process weirdly muting and endlessly deferring the sexual drama." Quentin Tarantino named it one of the top 10 movies of the year so far in October 2013.