Drinking Buddies Director Joe Swanberg Talks Beer

The new independent film starring Olivia Wilde puts beer front and center

Beer should be listed in the credits of the new movie Drinking Buddies.

The independent film, opening in limited release this weekend (and now available on iTunes), breezily portrays the relationship between Chicago craft brewery coworkers Lucy and Jake, a pair of will-they-or-won't-they-end-up-together buddies played by Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson.

They're both with other partners, but their chemistry is palpable–as is their enjoyment of a good pint.

Although all of the movie's free-flowing dialogue is improvised, the selection of beer, which appears in nearly every scene, is not: Director Joe Swanberg is a self-professed beer geek, and likens the craft beer movement to filmmaking.

"You have the big studios and the macrobreweries, which both dominate their industries," Swanberg says. "Independent films and craft breweries compete for whatever space is left over, whether it's screen space or shelf space."

We asked Swanberg how the movie came to a head.

Drinking Buddies director Joe Swanberg (Photo: Clayton Hauck)

We read that, before filming, you brewed beer with Olivia and Jake.
When they got to town, I gave them my own version of a beer boot camp, starting with brewing beer in my basement. I gave the finished product to the crew as a wrap present, so the beer and the movie took the same time to make.

Why did you set this particular story in a craft brewery?

It's a nontraditional workplace, and people who work there do it because they love it. I wanted the characters to be in a passionate environment. And because the movie is a romantic comedy, the free-flowing beer acts as a social lubricant. It fuels the loose, flirty relationship between Lucy and Jake.

The characters do drink a LOT. Were you specific about what was in their glasses?
Oh, yeah. There's a stereotype that women don't drink dark beers, so we made sure that Lucy was drinking them. We definitely planned out their drinks; Ron [Livingston, who plays Lucy's boyfriend] drank a lot of wine and bourbon.

If Lucy and Jake were each a beer, what would they be?

Jake is an IPA; the big flavor and hoppiness fits the character. Lucy is a Belgian IPA. It's very sweet, with high sugar and alcohol content, but the hidden bitterness of the IPA soon emerges. You see her character go through a transformation: At first she's so perfect, but then you realize she's a real person with her own baggage.

What beer would you pair with Drinking Buddies?

You have to drink multiple beers. Start with a lager; it's light and gets you going. In the middle of the film, when things get more complicated, switch to a chocolatey stout or Belgian tripel. Finish with a hoppy Irish IPA. You definitely need that hit of bitterness at the end.

And what are you drinking this summer?

I have an entire fridge in my basement that's off-limits to anything but beer. Right now, it's stocked with Half Acre's Pony Pilsner, Three Floyds' Zombie Dust and Revolution's Mother of Exiles pilsner.