’Greatest Beer Run’ Brews a Heady Mix of Factual Comedy, Drama, Action and Politics

Greatest Beer Run Ever

After its big Oscar wins with “CODA,” Apple TV+ is in the race again this year and will get a lot of attention with “Emancipation,” Will Smith’s first movie since The Slap. But Apple has several other possible contenders, including “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” a comedy-drama from Peter Farrelly, his followup to best-picture Oscar winner “Green Book.”

“Beer Run” was written by Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie and Pete Jones. It’s based on true events in 1967-68, when John (Chickie) Donohue decides to support his friends in Vietnam by hand-delivering beer to them. 

The comedy comes from Chickie (an excellent Zac Efron) doing foolish things in dire circumstances; as one character observes, Donohue is “too dumb to get killed.”

The drama comes from his slow realization that the boosterism he picked up from WWII vets doesn’t apply to Vietnam and that government propaganda about the war is based on lies. As Currie tells Variety, “Chickie comes to represents the changing American views of the late 1960s.”

Russell Crowe (also great) plays a composite character, a photo-journalist who tries to bring Donohue back to reality.

Aside from balancing comedy, drama and action, the writers faced another challenge: The tale was so preposterous, and so filled with amazing coincidences, that they had to invent some dialogue to acknowledge the far-fetched truth.

Before writing, the three scribes talked to “the real guys” — Currie’s description of those who saw combat in Vietnam. “They all said, ‘We knew it was a rudderless ship.’ Sometimes you had to pull it out of them. But we kept reassuring them we wanted to get it right. And they started opening up.”

The scribes incorporated a lot of those details in their script, which has the ring of truth, both in Vietnam and at home.

Unlike many film co-scripters, these three worked together in a writers’ room. Even more unusual: Farrelly insisted Currie and Jones be on the set for the filming. Their mantra was, “We knew what we’d been thinking in that room. So let’s remember that.”

Filming in Thailand (doubling for Vietnam) was hampered by heavy rains and heat; another factor was frequent COVID testing. “Everyone was very vigilant,” Currie says.

Farrelly is open to suggestions from anyone; he starts every movie by telling the cast and crew, “If you have a good idea, you know where to find me. I want to hear it; I want this as good as it can be.”

The project was set into motion several years ago when Andrew Muscato, a producer of the film, met journalist Joanna Molloy and asked, “What’s the best story you never wrote about?” She told him about Chickie. Muscato made a 13-minute documentary and she co-authored a 2017 book with Donohue. 

Currie started as an actor and worked for Bobby & Peter Farrelly in several films, including “Fever Pitch” and “Stuck on You.” 

But acting success “was taking too long,” he laughs, so he started writing, and “I was lucky enough to pay the rent” by selling scripts to studios. He had worked in a nightclub with Nick Vallelonga and the two took the “Green Book” idea to Peter Farrelly. After that film, Farrelly recruited him for “Beer Run.”

Unlike many of this year’s awards hopefuls, the film is consistently entertaining. And it has emotional heft to underscore the comedy.

“Green Book” was plagued by consistent badmouthing, including a concerted effort by some Oscar rivals. Hopefully “Beer Run” can avoid the mudslinging and hopefully Apple TV+ will remember the public, not the critics, as it continues its Oscar push.