As those who follow certain blogs, Twitter feeds and Austin-based film festivals know, Joe Swanberg is nothing if not a divisive figure. Advocates say the lanky Chicagoan exemplifies the communal spirit and back-to-Cassavetes-basics of today’s DIY cinéastes; haters claim he’s the nadir of the narcissistic noodling that characterizes the Amerindie-movement-that-shall-not-be-named. Both camps are likely to be mystified by this dramedy about brewery workers (Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson) inching toward possible buddies-with-benefits status. It feels more accessible and tighter than the director’s usual aimless character studies, cast with recognizable stars instead of, say, roommates and friends. Yet it’s still shambling and loose enough to not be mistaken for some rote rom-com. The best thing you can say about the movie is that you couldn’t accuse it of being a sellout—nor would you think it was a Joe Swanberg movie.
If that sounds like faint praise, it is, though that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying one of the better screen couplings in recent memory. New Girl and House fans know that Johnson and Wilde are team players, but they may work better as a duo; there’s a real chemistry between the actors, especially once their respective partners (Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick) slowly recede out of the picture. The stars sell the cutesiness, and the rawness-equals-real go-nowhereness that seemingly infects every conversation in a microbudget indie, with equal professionalism and vigor; if they can’t stick the landing in the end, it’s because no one could. Don’t shoot the messengers.
Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear