In the Country Strong trailer, Gwyneth Paltrow, dressed in black lingerie and drunken rage, rips a bottle of alcohol from her honky-tonk beau's hand. "Give it to me!" she spits and yells, crying and red-faced, slumping to the floor.
This is the cue that her character, country star Kelly Canter, has hit skidsville. Fighting for the bottle is second only to empty bottle-tossing in terms of boozy film cliches, and Country Strong looks like it contains about a 40's worth.
Last year, Jeff Bridges took the Academy Awards' Best Actor statue after his character Bad Blake lost his girlfriend's son in Crazy Heart during a quick bar visit (putting others' lives in danger: cliche number three). But Blake is the perfect Hollywood drunk: even with a McClure's paunch poking out of his denim shirt and a grimy ankle cast from driving drunk into a tree, audiences are on his side. Though he's messy and drooling, Blake exudes just enough charm, talent and appeal that you want to see him sober and successful.
It's too early to tell if Paltrow's surprisingly upbeat Glee performance will be enough to get the movie-going crowds on her side, too, or if she'll end up covered in goop, lying in the drunk tank along with Meg Ryan's 1994 performance in When a Man Loves a Woman. No one wanted to see Sleepless in Seattle go Crashing Through Shower Door.
Often, as in Crazy Heart, it's up to supporting players to convince audiences an addict is worth caring for. Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance as a small-town music reporter is natural and believable, as is her reluctance to stay with Blake after he misplaces her young son. There's Elisabeth Shue's role as a tough prostitute who brings meaning to the last days of Nicolas Cage's life in 1995's Leaving Las Vegas. Cage scored a Best Actor award, and Shue a Best Actress nomination, for their dysfunctional connection.
Boozy, bitter couples have a special seat up at Hollywood's bar, too. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was nominated in every Academy Award category (it received 13 nominations for acting and production), including a Best Actress nod for Elizabeth Taylor. Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick's thirst got them award nominations for Blake Edwards' 1962 Days of Wine and Roses. It's those damn martini lunches.
Then there's the category of poetic souls fighting to escape from their bottled-up demons. Charles Bukowski is basically a film genre. The quintessential Mickey Rourke performance in Barfly is inspired by Bukowski's hard-liquoring years in Los Angeles, and Factotum, starring Matt Damon, is based on Bukowski's novel of the same name.
But then there are the drunks who you hope never achieve sobriety, because what fun would that be? Steve Buscemi steals the party spotlight in The Wedding Singer as a sloshy brother giving a pissed-up toast. Billy Bob Thorton literally pisses himself in Bad Santa and still scores Lauren Graham. We'll see if Russell Brand can fill Dudley Moore's tiny shoes as Arthur, in the upcoming remake of the 1981 comedy about a rich alcoholic.
And, of course, there's the 1986 cult classic, Withnail and I. Who wouldn't want to spend long afternoons with Richard E. Grant's Withnail, sharing a bottle of "'53 Margaux, best of the century"? Bottoms up!
Country Strong opens Friday, January 7