Green Book director Peter Farrelly took on another 1960s story with The Greatest Beer Run Ever (now available on AppleTV+), based on the bizarre and almost unbelievable story of John “Chickie” Donohue (Zac Efron), who travelled to Vietnam to bring his American friends and soldiers a beer (specifically cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon), also featuring Russell Crowe and Bill Murray.
“This was a very challenging movie to make, it was a lot harder than Dumb and Dumber,” Farrelly said, while in Toronto to premiere to film at the city’s film festival. “Look, we didn't have a huge budget, this isn't one of those $100 million movies, we had $40 million, which is not a little, but we're trying to create a war and a reality, and you have to surround yourself with great people… who cross the T's dot the I's and make everything right.”
Chickie had always stressed that he’s a staunch supporter of the troops, while his sister Christine (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) is joining local protests in New York in opposition of the war. While Chickie’s initial quest is peculiar, leaning into ridiculous, when he actually arrives in Vietnam we see him confront the realities of the war, including interactions with journalists on the ground, like Crowe’s character Coates.
“There are so many things that I love about Chickie as a human being and as a character, I think, most of all, he's motivated out of this pure sense of love for his friends, but he doesn’t have all the answers,” Efron said about playing Chickie. “He's brave enough to just throw himself out there and follow through with a pretty crazy idea that he had while he was drunk.”
“So many of those crazy ideas you have as people, you end up either not doing or realizing they're dumb and not following through, and when he does ultimately decide to do it and goes on one of the most wild journeys ever, it's just very cool. He's a very open, beautiful person.”
When asked what made Efron a great fit for the role, Farrelly stressed that he needed someone with “built in charm.”
“This guy is flawed and he starts off as a guy who doesn't always make the right decisions,” the director said. “He's not right politically, but you can continue to follow him and watch him grow and learn, and it's very similar to what Viggo Mortensen was, I thought, in Green Book where you could put up with some some missteps by him early on, because he was just innately likeable, like Zac.”
'Shame to see history repeating itself'
It’s Zac Efron’s “charm” that really carries much of The Greatest Beer Run Ever, but it’s not enough to keep you totally invested in the story. There are certainly some laugh’s and Efron’s ability to lead a film is undeniable, but the concept of Chickie learning how to “be a better person,” of sorts, lacks emotional impact.
That being said, Peter Farrelly did stress that there is a lesson that can be learned from watching The Greatest Beer Run Ever.
“I think that there's a lesson in this movie, Vietnam was a bad war and we didn't know it at first,...Americans thought that it was World War II, but it wasn't, it was a completely different thing and it took years for the truth to come out,” he said. “By the '70s, Americans started seeing the reality of what that war was and it was a disaster, it was bad, it didn't help anybody.”
The director also related the lessons from The Greatest Beer Run Ever to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
“Many Americans died and many more Vietnamese people died, and it was unnecessary, and that's exactly what's happening in Ukraine,” Farrelly said. “I pray every night that the Russian leadership realizes that no one's going to win here. Stop it now, enough damage has been done… You just hope that they see the light before more people have to die.”
“I think you've put it perfectly, shame to see history repeating itself,” Efron added.