The movies are full of cautionary tales about drinking. From The Lost Weekend to Leaving Las Vegas to Young Adult, Hollywood's settled approach to booze—at least since the Hays Code and Prohibition—has been to come out against it. Whatever and however much filmmakers and stars may imbibe in their private lives, it's safer to condemn Demon Rum than to celebrate it. But when you look in the vaults, many movies actually show the fun side of drinking. Movies, too, are about escape—a giddy reprieve from our humdrum daily lives. A favorite film should feel slightly intoxicating, so here are some suggested DVD rentals to pair with your next bottle of hooch.
The Drink: Rum. The Movie: The Rum Diary No matter what a self-caricature he became in his later boozing/writing life, Hunter S. Thompson was a man who loved a good bender. And before he got into drugs later in the '60s, he was a rum-guzzling tyro journalist in Puerto Rico. Those experiences provided the the outline for his novel The Rum Diary more than three decades later, which Johnny Depp encouraged him to write—thus providing the star/acolyte with a role in last year's film adaptation. Sure, there are hangovers, missed appointments, and a few drunken regrets, but rum is mainly a source of liberation for Depp's reporter Paul Kemp, who's actually revealed to be a fairly principled fellow. Around the periphery is an alcoholic fellow newsie (Giovanni Ribisi) who steals the old filters from a rum distillery to make super-strong home-brewed hooch. He's what Thompson would become—a sad, broken-down clown. But Kemp is the man Thompson fancied himself to be: young, handsome, and a fun drunk. Even if he doesn't get the girl after the night's revelry, he can sail off to new women, new stories, and new adventures.
The Drink: Beer. The Movie: Strange Brew Way back in 1983, Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis spun off their SCTV characters, Doug and Bob McKenzie, in this sudsy celebration of TV chat shows (aka The Great White North) and cold beer. Originally conceived as a kind of rebuke to boring old Canada, the duo actually became unlikely national mascots. So what if they didn't have any interests or geopolitical awareness beyond beer, ice hockey, and . . . well, beer? Refreshing themselves often from the cooler full of Molson's behind the couch, the McKenzie brothers exuded a good-natured, humble acceptance of the world. They didn't get too worked up about anything—or try to understand anything. Their comfortable beer buzz stood in relaxed contrast to those tenser times (Reagan, the Cold War, etc.), and the McKenzies possessed a kind of pre-Gumpian innocence. Pettiness and ambition were for hosers, and beer was for drinking. If they had an American cousin, he'd be Homer Simpson. (Extra bonus: Max von Sydow, who plays the McKenzies' evil nemesis, is up for an Oscar this year for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which would've been a much better movie if everyone in it had been drunk—a more proper response to 9/11.)
The Drink: Wine. The Movie: Sideways Some say Paul Giamatti's character is a melancholy drunk in this Oscar winner from 2004; but then again, wine is also the only thing that gives Miles any pleasure. He's no good as a teacher, writer, or ex-husband. He may drink pinot noir to excess, but he's also most alive when tasting and discussing the stuff. And as he and college buddy Jack (Thomas Haden Church) go golfing and drinking in the Santa Barbara wine country, there are as many good times as bad. Their middle-aged lives may not be improving with age, but the wine generally does. And if not for their vineyard tour, Miles wouldn't have met the lovely local waitress Maya (Virginia Madsen), a more temperate oenophile than he. Like Alexander Payne's latest film, The Descendants, Sideways is sad but not depressing. Miles gradually accepts that he may be a failure at some things (like writing novels), but there's no sign that he gives up on grapes . . . or love.
The Drink: Champagne. The Movie: Arthur No, we are not talking about last year's remake with Russell Brand and Helen Mirren. Rather, it's the 1981 original with Dudley Moore and John Gielgud that makes us want to pop open a bottle of bubbly. Oh, to be rich and idle in the '80s! As the cackling Arthur Bach, heir to some kind of fortune, Moore relishes every slurred line reading and carpet stumble. His approach to acting is one of verbal slapstick—he genuinely seems surprised by everything he says, as if his utterances came from someone else's mouth. So naturally he laughs along at what he's just said. Liza Minnelli plays the girl who would reform him, but who wants reform? Worth $750 million then, Arthur would be well past billionaire status today. Yet you can't hate this blithe spirit, since Arthur is so defiantly childish. In its selfish yet unsnobby way, Arthur celebrates New York, limousines, top hats, and butlers (Gielgud's archly disapproving character) with zero class-consciousness. Champagne is the lubricant that allows Arthur to treat all parties equally. He's a happy drunk who's happy to clown for the masses. Told that drinking so much will affect his decision-making, Arthur replies, "You may be right. I can't decide."
The Drink: Tequila. The Movie: Cocktail This one is kind of a cheat, since Tom Cruise's bartender character learns to make every kind of drink while apprenticing under Bryan Brown. Cruise here plays the top gun of the Upper East Side, a dancing mixologist and ladies' man who dreams of little more than money and the next piece of tail. At this point in his career, Cruise's charm, ambition, and self-confidence were already beginning to harden into the mask he wears today. Made in 1988, as an emblem of the decade, Cocktail clings to the good times. No one worries about AIDS, hangovers, or lonely nights. (On the soundtrack, of course, is Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love.") There's only the slam of the glass on the mahogany, then another round for the ladies: Elisabeth Shue, Kelly Lynch, and Gina Gershon are among the babes forced to stand next to Cruise—he on a milk crate—and endure his grinning affections.
The Drink: Bourbon. The Movie: Barfly The Wrestler may have signaled Mickey Rourke's comeback and earned him an Oscar nomination four years back, but his career has been full of strange exiles, unheralded returns, and bizarre physical transformations. Case in point: his role in the autobiographically inspired, Charles Bukowski-scripted Barfly (1987), cast as a shambling drunk so soon after his suave performance in 9½ Weeks. Gone was the sexy seducer; in his place a lank-haired, potbellied, unshaven saloon poet appeared. Playing Henry Chinaski, Rourke is a riot—it's one of his funniest, loosest turns as an actor. Under the direction of Barbet Schroeder, with Faye Dunaway on the barstool next to him, Rourke communicates the unapologetic gusto of a daytime drinker. You can't separate his loves for women, words, bourbon, and life. His vitality is near-boundless, but it doesn't quite include ambition. When a magazine editor takes an interest in his poetry, Henry isn't eager to clean up for a respectable literary career. That would interfere with his true vocation, he explains to her: "Anybody can be a non-drunk. It takes a special talent to be a drunk. It takes endurance. Endurance is more important than truth."