Drinking Games (1998)
Noah: You've really grown up, Chelsea.
Chelsea: What's that supposed to mean?
Noah: I don't know. Maybe it's the beer.
Chelsea: Well, maybe you should have another one.- Christian Leffler, Gina Marie Gian
Stars: Christian Leffler, Dinah Leffert, Geoffrey L. Smith
Other Stars: Brian Anthony, Melanie Hall, Andrea White, Jason Frazier
Director: Joseph Lawson
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult language, mature themes, graphic sexual dialogue)
Run Time: 01h:36m:03s
Release Date: 2001-03-13
DVD ReviewThere must've been something in the air in 1994. Two independent films were produced that year about members of Generation X dealing with growing older. Both had quick, insightful dialogue. Both were peppered with pop culture references. And both dealt frankly with sexuality. One of those films was Kevin Smith's Clerks, which won awards at both the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. The other was Drinking Games, which failed to find an audience and sat on the shelf until a video premier in 1998.
As I watched Drinking Games, I couldn't help but notice all the similarities to Smith's indie opus. Some scenes seem to be directly lifted from Clerks, at least in tone and topic (specifically I am thinking of the "How many guys have you slept with?" scene). I was very surprised, therefore, when I did a bit of reading about the film and I discovered that both were produced at about the same time. That being said, I think it is obvious why Clerks became such a success while Drinking Games didnot, but more on that a bit later.
Despite the strong similarities to the aforementioned film, Drinking Games is most similar (and much indebted) to the 1983 film The Big Chill, directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Both share the same basic structure: a group of friends gather after the suicide of a friend to reminisce about the person, smoke pot, get drunk, have sex, and philosophize on the mysteries of life. I swear, this movie is a direct update of The Big Chill with Gen Xers substituted for the Baby Boomers that populated Kasdan's film.
I'll say it now, if you weren't a fan of The Big Chill, this isn't the movie for you. The story follows the same general course, and in fact, many of the emotional beats are identical (they end almost exactly the same way as well). Many (myself included) found the "introspective" elements of Kasdan's screenplay to be a bit overdone and pretentious, and Drinking Games suffers from many of the same problems. I guess writers just have a thing for whiney, mopey characters. The dramatic dialogue in both films is far too self-conscious and obvious. Frankly, I felt that what was said was nothing new. If it takes a suicide for people to realize the kind of things the characters do in these movies, then I think the departed made the right decision in taking an early exit.
On a related note, and going back to why I think this film failed while Clerks succeeded: the writing here is just not up to par. Kevin Smith has a remarkable ear for dialogue. He is able to make a fart joke sound eloquent. Basically, he writes the way people wish they could talk. And while Clerks certainly had its corny, obvious, "deep" moments, the problem was mostly avoided because the film was so smartly written. Drinking Games, unfortunately, does not quite match up. First, the humor is just not all that funny. The lewd, sexual dialogue seems a bit tame and tentative, and the references to pop culture are obvious and they usually fall flat. Smith was probably influenced by Reservoir Dogs—both that film and Clerks have some extremely funny non-sequitor conversations (think the Death Star construction debate). Drinking Games attempts the same sort of style, but is largely unsuccessful. One example that sticks in my mind was a conversation about the difference between tomatoes and ketchup. I kept waiting for the punchline, but the joke just trailed off.
That isn't to say there aren't any positives to the screenplay. When the script isn't trying to be deep and isn't stretching to be clever, it is actually very endearing. I really enjoyed the casual interaction between the friends, and it was in these scenes that the heart of the piece shown through. I imagine I would have enjoyed the film much more if it didn't try so hard to say something. The message would have been pretty clear without all the impassioned speeches.
The direction, on the other hand, is surprisingly good. At first I was afraid the camera was going to be static for much of the picture (which centers almost solely around one table), but Lawson does a nice job of keeping things interesting. There is a nice mix of handheld and steadycam shots, and some unusual scenes where characters address the camera directly.
The actors are undoubtedly amateurs, but all of them bring an enthusiasm to their roles that will really grow on you as the plot progresses. The cast as a whole seems to have a lot of trouble portraying a realistic rise in emotion and intensity, but I think an equal part of the blame rests on the screenplay. They do their best work in the sections of the script I enjoyed the most: the casual conversations. Apparently the cast lived together for three weeks before filming, and those bonds really show up onscreen.
Overall, Drinking Games is not without its problems, but strong direction, a likeable cast, and a flawed but heartfelt screenplay make it worth a viewing for supporters on independent film (and that SHOULD be everyone).
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.78:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Transfer reviews for low budget films are generally the hardest to write, because the source materials available for the DVD must be taken into account when handing out a grade. I know a low budget film can look very good on DVD, but I can't say Drinking Games looks as good as it could. Still, the film wasn't a huge success, and I doubt IndieDVD has pockets as deep as Miramax.
There are some definite problems with the source material here. The film was shot on a combination of Super 16 and regular 16mm, then blown up to a widescreen ratio. There is quite a lot of visible film grain, especially in earlier scenes that were shot on the 16mm stuff (the director points them out in the commentary, but you can really tell anyway). The liner notes mention one scene that was damaged beyond repair; the result is a warped, wavy look to certain portions of the screen during the first part of the film. Also, there are a lot of odd scratches and lines on the picture, but they don't look like film damage. Instead, they remind me of lines on a VCR, making me suspect that the source material for this transfer was actually a video master.
Despite these problems, however, the film is certainly watchable. Black level is decent and colors look good, if a bit muted. Based on material provided about the state of the film elements and the extreme low budget of the production, I am giving the people at IndieDVD a decent grade for their work restoring this film for DVD.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio transfer fares quite a bit better than the video. This film is basically all dialogue, except for the soundtrack, and voices sound clear and natural throughout, with no audible hissing or other distractions. The soundtrack, when present, sounds good as well, and it makes good use of the front main soundstage.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Joe Lawson and Producer Scott Burgin
Layers Switch: 00h:40m:15s
- Drinking Game subtitle track
- Drinking Game Library
The commentary track with writer/director Joe Lawson and producer Scott Burgin is very entertaining and informative. The two speak with great candor about the making of the film, from problems in financing to things that could have gone better. They also offer a lot of humorous anecdotes about what went on on-set, as well as some revelations about some elements of the script.
There are 10 deleted scenes offered in generally good repair. Most of them were clearly cut for a reason, but I think they did eliminate the funniest joke in the movie. Just watch the scene entitled "Heather's theory of soul evolution."
I had read a bit about the "Interactive Party Game" before I viewed the disc, and I imagined something a bit more creative. Basically, the activation of this subtitle track will make a small icon for each character appear at the bottom of the screen whenever that character takes a drink of beer in the film (which is quite often). Kinda stupid, and I hope it wasn't included at the expense of a normal subtitle track. Also, I wouldn't recommend trying the game out with hard liquor because, as the back of the box warns you, "the consumption of alcoholic beverages can be dangerous and/or fatal." Yeah, tell that to the guy who lives next door to me.
In keeping with the Brain-Cell-Eradicating theme, there is a library of rules for 24 "traditional drinking games" (traditional as in what, "Ye Olde Ale Sportes?") presented in text form. Now they are just giving people ideas!
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsDrinking Games plays much like The Big Chill, updated for Generation X. Chances are if you didn't enjoy that film, you will not find much to like about this one either. Still, despite some problems with the script and the performances, fans of independent films will want to give this one a look. After all, it may seem a bit cliché now, but in 1994 (the year it was made), this film was breaking new ground for the indie market.
Joel Cunningham 2001-02-27