“The Greatest Beer Run Ever” tells the (based-on-a) true story of a man who went to Vietnam during the war just to bring beer to his enlisted friends. Director and co-writer Peter Farrelly started working on the film before his Oscar-winning drama “Green Book” finished its awards lap in 2019.
“Somebody sent me a 12-minute documentary that Andrew Muscato did about the greatest beer run ever, and I just couldn’t believe what I was looking at, that this guy actually went to Vietnam during the war, somehow found his way around the country and dropped off beers with people and happened to get there right before the Tet Offensive. I was like, ‘That’s unbelievable,'” he told TheWrap’s Brian Welk after the movie’s world premiere on Sept. 13 at the Toronto film festival.
Farrelly and the man who did the beer run in real life, John “Chickie” Donohue, stopped by TheWrap and Shutterstock’s Interview and Portrait Studio at TIFF to discuss the movie, which will be released in select theaters and on Apple TV+ on Sept. 30, 2022.
While Chickie’s quest may be questionable, Farrelly said he never doubted the audience would find the character (played by Zac Efron in the film) sympathetic. “The idea of doing it is such hubris. It’s craziness. It was already built in that this guy’s a dreamer. He’s a little nuts,” Farrelly said. “But I love characters like that because his heart was in the right place. He was doing it for the right reason because he wanted to support his friends in Vietnam. And as ludicrous as it sounded, it came from a beautiful place and so it’s easy to get behind a guy who does something that crazy.”
The writer-director and Donohue bonded quickly after discovering they had both gone on similar “missions” to a combat zone. “I had brought beers over to friends in Iraq, so we didn’t realize that we had this in common,” Farrelly said.
While the story sounds far-fetched, Farrelly said that almost everything we see in it really happened, including the moment when Efron’s jeans-clad former Marine is mistaken for a CIA operative.
“They just assumed that I was some sort of federal agent,” Donohue explained. “I’d say, ‘If I told you the truth, you wouldn’t believe me anyway.’ So they assumed it was top secret.”
Farrelly added, “When they asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ He said, ‘Bringing beer to friends of mine in battle.’ [So they decided], ‘That makes no sense. He must be CIA.'” (The CIA agent chasing Chickie, was, however, a Hollywood invention, Farrelly admitted.)
Farrelly based much of his version of Donohue’s story on Muscato’s 2015 documentary short, which has the same name as the new film. “I’d seen [Donohue] being interviewed with the guys who he had gone over and seen, so there were four eyewitnesses,” the director said. “And they had photos of him in foxholes, in his normal clothes, and everyone else is in camos and they’re drinking beer. So I believed it from the second I heard it, but it is an unbelievable story. A lot of crazy things [happened], like when he got there, he got off the boat and within minutes, he ran into one of his buddies who was in the next boat over.”
The film starts off a comedy, but when Chickie sees the horrors of war, including the Tet Offensive, the movie becomes more serious. Farrelly said, “I liked the tonal shift halfway through. It happened organically and there’s no going back once you start seeing what’s going over there. It just seems silly and fun and goofy, and then the fun and games end.”
Donohue said he was deeply moved watching his Vietnam voyage reenacted on the big screen. “It was very emotional for me. I’m feeling the same emotions again. And I’m looking at this stranger up there and I say, ‘That guy’s me.’ I had never experienced anything like that,” he said.
When asked if Efron nailed the part, Donohue answered, “I was really surprised how he got me. He really did get me and there were times I’m looking at him. I’m saying, ‘That’s me.’ But that’s not me. But it’s me.”
For the full conversation about “The Greatest Beer Run,” check out the video above.
Studio sponsors include GreenSlate, Moët & Chandon, PEX and Vancouver Film School.