ON AIR: The New Classical FM
-
ClassicalFM

Film Review: The Greatest Beer Run Ever & The Good House

Arts Review2022-9-29By: Marc Glassman

 

Truth Telling in Manhattan and New England

The Greatest Beer Run Ever and The Good House reviewed

By Marc Glassman

 

The Greatest Beer Run Ever

Peter Farrelly, director & co-script w/ Brian Currie and Pete Jones

Based on John “Chickie” Donohue’s memoirs w/Joanna Molloy

Starring: Zac Efron (Chickie), Russell Crowe (Arthur Coates), Bill Murray (The Colonel), Jake Picking (Rick Duggan), Will Ropp (Kevin McLoone), Archie Renaux (Tommy Collins), Kyle Allen (Bobby Pappas), Kevin K. Tran (Oklahoma)

 

The old cliché “truth is stranger than fiction” must have motivated Oscar winner Peter Farrelly to make his follow-up to Green Book another “based on a true story” film set in the U.S. during the Sixties. Just as Green Book featured a clueless white guy (played by Viggo Mortensen) learning about racism in the American South, The Greatest Beer Run Ever gives us another likeable conservative, Chickie Donohue, finding out what was going on in Vietnam. Here the American average “Joe” is played by Zac Efron—handsome, yes, but not a comparable actor to Viggo—and his surprise is brought about solely by what he encounters, not through a rapport with someone other than himself. While Green Book was ultimately moving because it was a buddy film also featuring the great Mahershala Ali, Chickie’s journey is one of self-discovery—and that leaves Farrelly with less of an emotional wallop to his tale.

But what a story it is! It’s 1967 and Chickie, a former soldier, who served in the military in Massachusetts before the Vietnam War heated up, is now part of the Merchant Marines. When he’s not out at sea, he is still hanging with his buddies in the ‘hood, Inwood, located in the farthest reaches of Manhattan, past Morningside Heights. While Chickie’s sister is now one of the growing number of hippies and peaceniks opposing President Johnson’s war in Vietnam, he and his pals still believe that the conflict is justified. Having drinks one night at their local, someone suggests that the greatest thing would be if someone went to ‘Nam and brought beers to the local guys who are fighting there. Maybe it was the brews talking but Chickie suddenly piped up that he would do it. 

So begins the greatest beer run I’ve ever heard of—and certainly the craziest of its time. Egged on by his pals and the bartender/owner The Colonel, played unflappably by Bill Murray, Chickie boards a ship the next day to Vietnam, with a bag filled to the brim with Budweiser’s and Pabst Blue Ribbon beers. When he arrives in Vietnam, Chickie almost immediately finds one of his pals, Collins, who happens to be stationed there. But from that point on, things get harder. He wants to find their pal Duggan, who happens to be right in the war zone in the northern part of the country. Through luck and sheer bravado, Chickie discovers that he can pretend to be a CIA agent—and no American military personnel will dare to oppose his wishes. He bluffs his way up north and it’s only when he meets up with Duggan that Chickie begins to realize that he’s in a life and death situation.

Duggan wises him up as does a night spent with his pal in the trenches with bullets flying both ways. By the morning, Duggan has his buddy convinced to head back south although his fears for his safety only begins to abate when another G.I. remarks that Chickie is “too dumb to die.” Whatever the reason, Chickie survives a terrifying walk in a jungle filled with Viet Cong, bullets, bombs and attacks in military bases and Saigon. Much as Green Book is about someone discovering the harsh truth about America, The Greatest Beer Run Ever tells us about a naïve young man who discovers that the reality in Vietnam is far more complex than he imagined. 

The most interesting and heartwarming element of the film is that, though Farrelly’s film plays somewhat with the facts—the war correspondent who helps Chickie and is played winningly by Russell Crowe is a composite of various folks—the essential story is true. At TIFF, the real Chickie was accompanied by Duggan, Pappas, McLoone and Collins, the people who he brought beers to in Vietnam, 55 years ago. That’s astonishing and is genuinely moving. 

Unfortunately, The Greatest Beer Run Ever lacks the wallop of Green Book. There’s no “ah-ha” moment when Chickie realizes that America shouldn’t be in Vietnam. In fact, he may never have felt that way; all that Chickie admits is that the situation isn’t as easy to understand as World War Two. And Chickie’s pals enjoy him, but their attitude may be summarized by Pappas’ observation: “Chickie, you’re all heart. But I’m not so sure about your brains.” Over half a century later, the audience will likely feel the same way. 

 

The Good House

Maya Forbes & Wallace Wolodarsky, directors & co-script w/Thomas Bezucha

Based on the novel by Ann Leary

Starring: Sigourney Weaver (Hildy Good), Kevin Kline (Frank Getchell), Morena Baccarin (Rebecca McAllister), Rob Delaney (Peter Newbold), David Rasche (Scott Good), Rebecca Henderson (Tess Good), Molly Brown (Emily Good), Kathryn Erbe (Wendy Heatherton), Beverly D’Angelo (Mamie Lang), Paul Guilfoyle (Henry Barlow)

 

The Good House is a deceptive film, which starts off by being charming, slyly subversive, obsessional, and funny, and then, having drawn you in, turns into something romantic, tragic and redemptive. That’s quite an emotional journey for any film to take and it’s particularly surprising considering it’s a modestly budgeted Indie work starring two veteran actors, Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline, who are hardly big draws at the box office these days. Perhaps that’s why The Good House is so remarkable, since expectations for a big success would have been low, allowing the directing and writing couple of Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky to make a film without compromise. 

Weaver is the lead here, breaking the fourth wall constantly, bringing the audience into her version of what’s happening in the story. She’s Hildy Good, a New England Yankee for so many generations that one of the 17th century Salem witches is a direct ancestor. (The film was shot gloriously in Nova Scotia). We quickly learn that Hildy was the top realtor in her gorgeous community until her family and friends intervened a couple of years ago, forcing her to go into rehab for alcohol abuse. Now, her former assistant, Wendy Heatherton (an underutilized Kathryn Erbe) has stolen most of her clients but professes friendship while her two daughters and former husband, who is now out and gay, accept her new sobriety but with some suspicion that she’ll fall off the wagon.

Here’s where the filmmakers pull us in, aided and abetted by a very persuasive performance by Weaver: Hildy is, in fact, secretly drinking a bottle of wine a day. We’re let in on what she sees as a joke, that her kids and other loved ones have got it wrong and she’s just fine with her drinking. Invited in on her deception is a very rich, unhappy recent arrival, Rebecca McAllister (a charismatic attractive Morena Baccarin) who is secretly having an affair with the community psychologist Peter Newbold. 

Director/writers Forbes and Wolodarsky do a wonderful job of creating a proper Atlantic regional environment. We see Hildy operating brilliantly around the village while showing an encyclopedic knowledge of the homes—from palatial to old-fashioned rural—and the people who live in them. Though the film shoot was apparently not that long, the movement of the seasons—so important in the East—from winter to spring to summer—is nicely captured. The rhythm and texture of a town, which accommodates those who have ancestors buried in the hills, but is moving swiftly into a touristy, second-home community is nicely evoked in The Good House—and it’s clear that Hildy “gets” the past and knows how to negotiate the future. 

In fact, it’s Hildy’s witty repartee with workers at the too expensive coffee shop, friends at swishy parties and loved ones at family gatherings as well as her clear-eyed view of what’s happening to her New England hometown that makes it hard to focus on her own problems. We see her reviving a long dormant relationship with the town’s blue-collar success story Frank Getchell—Kevin Kline—who has assembled a crew that can do everything from renovating houses to fishing lobster without rising in status. While her daughters are shocked, Hildy’s and Frankie’s re-emergence as a couple for the first time since high school seems to reinforce the idea that all is well with our realtor and her slightly dipsomaniac ways.

Then, in what would be a theatrical final act, the rug is pulled out from where Hildy is standing, forcing her to deal with the disappearance of a beloved child, an unexpected suicide, and her own revelation that she has a problem. Weaver is superb during these scenes, never overacting, always maintaining the Yankee stiff upper lip, while finally seeing the reality of her situation. 

The Good House pulls off a surprise on its audience. We come in expecting a rom-com and, indeed, there are many funny, charming scenes. But what we have here is a very well-made character study of someone we rarely see: an attractive brilliant mature woman, who has to understand and change her own life. This film wouldn’t work without Weaver, who gives a fresh, honest portrayal of Hildy Good. As for Kevin Kline, there may be some disappointment. He’s not the close-mouthed New England worker-type at all. Though we see some lovely gestures between Weaver and Kline—after all they were in Dave and The Ice Storm together in the Nineties—their rapport isn’t extraordinary. Still, it’s fine to see them together again after more than 20 years.

While it isn’t an overwhelming success, The Good House is well worth seeing, particularly for Sigourney Weaver’s performance. A classmate at Yale’s drama department with Meryl Streep, it would be wonderful to see more roles for Sigourney Weaver in the coming years.

JOIN CLASSICAL CLUB

Listen on the Go

Classical Logo
Download Apps
Download Apps
Marilyn Lightstone Reads
Art End World