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Actors and directors often say that the script is king. Haven’t you seen movies that – despite rich potential – fly off the rails? The issues often can be traced back to a script issue, a plot hole that swallows all effort and can doom even the most noble of projects.

Joe Swanberg swears by a different philosophy. The grassroots writer-director behind Hannah Takes the Stairs, Uncle Kent and V/H/S prefers not to lock his cast into a fixed screenplay, opting to let them react to conversations and emotions, which allows his dramas to live in the moment. It’s the use of improvisation to search for the beating heart of a particular story helps Swanberg’s latest, Drinking Buddies – which held its world premiere at the South By Southwest Film Festival on Saturday night – stand apart from traditional romantic comedies.

The movie boasts Swanberg’s most recognizable cast, exploring one of his most accessible character studies. It tells the universal story of an endearing yet mismatched couple, played by Anna Kendrick and Jake Johnson, who are tested by the temptations of infidelity when they begin interacting with a second couple, played by Olivia Wilde and Ron Livingston. Though Swanberg puts his foursome in familiar scenarios – a joint vacation at a secluded beachfront cabin; work events at the brewery that employs Wilde and Johnson – his reluctance to put words in his characters mouths allows Drinking Buddies to go down unexpected avenues as it searches for its truths.

Following the screening on Saturday night, I attended a private meet-and-greet with Swanberg and his cast and learning how liberating the director’s unconventional approach was to the actors helped me better appreciate the magic that’s captured in the loose, free-flowing but authentic film . “Putting dialogue in somebody else’s mouth has always felt strange to me,” the director told us – though the cast was quick to point out that Swanberg always had a strong vision about where he needed his story to go. The performers just had more leeway than usual in how they arrived at their destination.

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Drinking Buddies (World Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: Joe Swanberg

You know what makes the line between “Friends” and “More Than Friends” really blurry? Beer.
Cast: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Joe Swanberg

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