I tried to get my hands on The Rum Diary book, but alas, the one copy at the library was on loan for the last two months. It was written by Hunter S. Thompson in the early 1960s and was not published until the late 90s. Sadly, no book to movie comparisons shall be made.
While it is a novel, Thompson worked at a paper in Puerto Rico in the 60s, and the themes explored in the book and the movie are clearly ripped from his own life. The protagonist, Paul Kemp, wakes up dreadfully hung over in a hotel in San Juanand starts a job at a newspaper that’s disintegrating. He’s given a few fluffy assignments and asked to cut back on his drinking. The rest of the story follows him as he does not heed that request, and as he attempts to navigate the professional writing world wherein his values are put to the test.
The setting is lush Puerto Rico in the 60s with unfortunate, grandiose American hotels speckling the coastline. The nights are sweaty and the days are bright and idyllic. The visuals expertly set the atmosphere and tone.
The cast is well-chosen, even Amber Heard who isn’t exactly a fully fleshed out character. Johnny Depp returns to good form in this Thompsonesque role, delivering great lines and making Depp faces. Aaron Eckhart is built to be a smarmy, rich, blonde man. While the characters are archetypal, they aren’t cartoony.
Hmm, maybe ignore this image.
The themes are the most enjoyable part, and they’re universal. They are of particular interest to me, professionally and politically. Do you seek work that allows you to be successful and gain a voice at the risk of selling out? Is there an acceptable grey area? The tension between Americans and Puerto Ricans plays an important part, as well as ideas about the preservation of paradise.
Many great quotes are strewn throughout the script, but they don’t feel too contrived or unnatural. The overall impression is romantic and stylized, but it still feels natural, if not realistic, because a consistent world is presented to us.
When I review a movie, I avoid reading what other critics have said. While seeking the red-eyed Depp photo, my eyes unfortunately jumped down the page and I couldn’t resist seeing the Tomato-meter reading of 51%. ‘What, what?’ I wondered. Among the squashed green tomato snippets from critics were comments like: the commercial leads you to believe it will be like Fear and Loathing but it’s not; it’s unfocused; the conflicts weren’t intense enough; and the ever-lame unfunny critic trying to get in a laffer about how the filmmakers could have used some rum themselves.
Criticizing the film because the commercial tricked you into thinking it would be different is silly. Any slight feeling of loss of focus can be attributed to tone: sometimes boozy, other times a feverish desperation. Hollywooding-up the conflicts to a ridiculous degree is what is wrong with the film industry. And that last critic could use a rum or two herself: maybe she’d think of something genuine and original to say.
No, my second beer is because it was well done in terms of setting, tone, character, and theme… but it wasn’t brilliant. It just wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. The most enjoyable parts for me were the themes and ideas in the story, but overall everything was perhaps too predictable and obvious.
I watched this movie in wet pants. Not owning a car and no nearby theatres running matinees meant taking two buses and walking in unusually heavy rain. This movie spoke to me because I quit my original career direction and wanted to get a job that would make me happy rather than money–writing. While it may not speak to everyone, it’s still a smart film with a relatable philosophical backbone. Also pretty.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever there is alcohol on screen
Take a Drink: to a quotable line
Drink a Shot: when Depp makes a Depp face