Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the beginnings of some SXSW catch up. I didn’t have a working laptop this year (although I was able to tap some thoughts down on a beat up 7 year old loaner thanks to some awesome friends), so as a result I didn’t get as much written as the fest was going on as I would have liked.
So you’ll be seeing me wrap up my SXSW coverage over the next week or so, posting reviews and getting started on some of the interviews I was able to nab while the fest kicked my ass.
I’m going to start with Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies.
Basically it's about two people (Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson) who are soulmates, but in the best-friends variety, not the in-love-forever variety. But that magnetic energy is there when they're together and that sexual tension hangs thick over every frame of the movie. The ideas the film explores are deep ones, but it still suffers from mumblecore excess. When you don't have a script that means you're going to hear people repeat shit over and over again because they don't know what else to say. There's a party sequence in the movie that features a scene that is 2minutes long and is literally just our main characters getting introduced to people that have no impact on the film at all. “Hey, meet Jack and Brian and Brian’s wife Helen. Now meet Josh and Frank and George and their wives… blah blah blah” and it goes nowhere! It’s not like these guys have a great moment or the scene tells us anything the rest of the movie doesn’t. That’s what I mean about mumblecore excess.
I'm a fan of scripts. However, I'm starting to see the appeal of making films like this for Swanberg. I was at a meet-and-greet/Q&A thing for this movie after its premiere and Swanberg discussed how he uses filmmaking to explore things he doesn't know much about. He doesn't write dialogue or fully create any characters because he wants to figure out these guys as they go along. He doesn't know how a woman would react in this situation, so why not find out when you cast a good actress and let her do that part? I get it, but that's great for him, not always great for the audience.
Of course I can’t speak for all audience members. In fact, most people who saw Drinking Buddies liked it a whole lot more than I did, but for me it boils down to the kind of art I like to take in, I think.
I’m not a big fan of experimental film if you get right down to it. I see its relevance to the art form, I see how useful it is to help filmmakers flex their muscles, explore their craft. I just don’t tend to enjoy watching them.
The mumblecore process is experimental filmmaking. That was my big takeaway from the Q&A and meet-and-greet. Swanberg is experimenting with these films and that’s not the kind of storytelling I gravitate towards.
Now this one is definitely the most polished of any of his films and when you have a cast of talented actors like Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde you’re going to get some good shit, even if you are making it up as you go along. Ben Richardson’s impact on the film is huge and makes a massive difference. In 10 years this kid is going to be recognized as one of the top DPs in the business. (That’s him on the left).
There’s a spark to the characters as they interact that even I can’t deny, but there’s nothing saying that spark wouldn’t be there if you gathered up these guys and actually gave them a script, trimmed out the treading water moments and put a little more thought into the story before the cameras rolled.
Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is the perfect film to show exactly that can be done. It has all the naturalism and spark that these sorts of films are trying to attain, but it also has the discipline of a regular narrative because it had a strict script and great actors delivering the lines.
So, I can’t fault Drinking Buddies, really. It’s just not my type of film. I will give Swanberg kudos for experimenting with his art and gathering a fantastic group together in order to explore a few very strong ideas. The man has made a career out of exploring his interests and I respect that. They just aren’t my favorite things to watch is all.