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#TIFF22 Review: The Greatest Beer Run Ever (Gala Presentations)

September 18, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to 18th.

Director Peter Farrelly made the switch to making “serious” films in 2018 with Green Book, a career pivot that (controversially) won him the People’s Choice Award at TIFF and subsequently the Oscar for Best Picture. Farrelly continues in this trajectory with The Greatest Beer Run Ever, another entertaining period piece that mixes comedy and drama to retell a somewhat unlikely true story.

Set in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, the film is based on the true story of John “Chickie” Donohue (Zac Efron), a young and aimless Marine Corps veteran from New York who decides to bring American beer to his buddies serving in Vietnam, as a way to let them know that the country has their back. Spurred by the deaths of several friends, it starts as a drunken idea in a bar inspired by one too many beers, after confronting his sister (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) at an anti-war protest.

But, egged on by the World War II veteran bartender (Bill Murray, in an appealing bit part) at his local neighbourhood hangout, Chickie is determined to follow through as a way to prove himself. He talks his way onto a ship lugging a duffle bag filled with Pabst Blue Ribbon, and lands in Vietnam. Much of the film follows him as he treks through active combat zones to track down his buddies and deliver them the goods, getting around by letting people assume that he is CIA and actually there on classified business, with his real raison d’être being too ludicrous to believe.

If the biggest criticism of Green Book was for its slightly simplistic racial politics, the same charges will inevitably be laid against The Greatest Beer Run Ever for its treatment of Vietnam. But Farrelly’s film does acknowledge that this was a messy war, and the role America played in it was complicated, to say the least. Charlie’s journey involves seeing this for himself, including with the help of the film’s most interesting supporting character, Arthur Coates (Russel Crowe), an American photojournalist who is documenting the carnage for Look magazine.

While The Greatest Beer Run Ever is content to start off as a sort of buddy comedy built around an absurdly amusing premise, it crucially becomes more serious as it goes along. Efron is very good in the leading role, offering a genial portrayal of a naive slacker who is forced to mature through the ultimately sobering journey that he puts himself on. Farrelly’s latest will prove divisive, maybe even more so than his last one. But the tonal shifts of The Greatest Beer Run Ever mostly worked for me, and I once again enjoyed the ride that Farrelly takes us on, through to the bittersweet lessons of the final few scenes.

Public Screenings:

Tuesday, September 13th – 6:00 PM at Roy Thomson Hall

Wednesday, September 14th – 9:30 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Thursday, September 15th – 9:30 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

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