It should come as no surprise that craft beer is the centerpiece of director Joe Swanberg’s new romantic dramedy “Drinking Buddies,” because the man is a massive beer geek.
The film stars Olivia Wilde ("TRON: Legacy") and Jake Johnson (Fox’s "The New Girl") as a pair of coworkers at a Chicago brewery who are drawn to each other despite being in relationships with other people. It also stars craft beer. Lots and lots of craft beer.
“I started homebrewing four years ago, and it led me to try new beers to taste what other people were doing,” Swanberg told TODAY.com.
In a sequence of events that many beer nerds can relate to, this exploration of the craft beer landscape became an obsession of sorts for the filmmaker. “Outside of making movies, craft beer is now the thing that dominates my life,” Swanberg said.
Being a beer geek, Swanberg wanted to make sure he nailed the little details of life in a brewery for his film. “I didn’t want a big Hollywood portrayal of a brewery, I wanted to make something a brewer could watch and see that we did things right,” he said.
It started with a brewing bootcamp the minute his stars landed in Chicago to start filming.
“The first thing I did was take Olivia and Jake to my house to brew a batch of beer. I wanted them to experience every step of the process with their own hands,” Swanberg said. “The next day we headed up to Three Floyds Brewing in Indiana, where my friend showed them what brewing is like on a grander scale.”
After that, it was up to the workers at the Chicago’s Revolution Brewing, where much of the film was shot, to make sure things looked authentic.
“They were suspicious of us at first, “ Swanberg recalled. “But once they saw we cared about doing it right, the brewers took Jake under their wing and showed him the ropes, which mostly consisted of cleaning,” he joked, noting the importance of proper sanitation is something you learn as a homebrewer - dirty equipment can quickly spoil a batch of beer.
Johnson learned his lessons well, as his portrayal of a brewer will resonate with anyone who’s ever spent time around people hefting malt and scrubbing stainless steel for a living. He also puts in a magnetic and authentic performance as the leading man in “Drinking Buddies,” making it clear that he has a bright future in Hollywood.
Wilde also puts in a wonderfully layered portrayal of Kate, an event planner at the brewery who is a beer geek’s idea of the perfect woman: She’s smart, funny, low-maintenance, is gorgeous (duh) and drinks dark beer.
“I wanted the beers people drink to help define each character,” Swanberg said. “Olivia drinks dark beers in the film because some people expect women to enjoy the lighter stuff, but she’s deeply into the beer culture.”
Other characters can be seen drinking IPAs, ambers, or eschewing beer altogether (thankfully these are not the characters you’ll be rooting for).
The beer nerdiness goes far beyond the colors of the beers in each character’s hand - there are lots of little nods to craft beer culture as the film unfolds. You’ll see and hear brands like Bells, Founders, Half Acre, Allagash, Three Floyds, and words like “brite tanks” and “wort,” which is properly pronounced as “wert” in the film. This is clearly what happens when a writer/director is bitten by the craft beer bug.
“Drinking Buddies” premieres on iTunes and pay per view on Thursday, July 25, which is a good thing, as this is a movie you’ll definitely want to watch at home, curled up with a bomber of your favorite Double IPA. The film will also be released in theaters on August 23, where you’ll have to sneak in cans of Surly Furious or Sierra Nevada Torpedo if you choose to see it on the big screen.
Swanberg has only one major concern about “Drinking Buddies.”
“I worry this will be the most fun I ever have making a move,” laments the 31-year-old filmmaker. That is unless he does a film set against Denver’s Great American Beer Festival. He could call it “Pretzel Necklace.” I’d pay to see that.