Cocktail is a 1988 American romantic drama film directed by Roger Donaldson and written by Heywood Gould, whose screenplay was based on his book of the same name. The film tells the story of a young New York City business student, Brian Flanagan, who takes up bartending in order to make ends meet. The film stars Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown, and Elisabeth Shue. Released by Touchstone Pictures, the film features an original music score composed by J. Peter Robinson.
Brian Flanagan gets a part-time job as a bartender at night while studying for a business degree by day. Over time, he learns the tricks of the trade, including flairing, from his mentor, Doug Coughlin. His advice usually begins with “Coughlin’s Law”. Brian has high personal aspirations, but Doug is leery of the two starting their own bar together. Doug intends to call his bar “Cocktails & Dreams.”
Eventually, Brian and Doug’s bartending act becomes popular and they end up working at a trendy nightclub. As their popularity rises, Brian becomes the focus of attention from a brunette named Coral. Doug is alarmed that Coral is coming between their partnership and bets Brian that Coral will leave by week’s end. Unbeknownst to Brian, Doug tricks Coral into sleeping with him. He secures his bet by sharing a kiss with Coral in front of Brian. Brian and Doug get into a fight, ending their partnership.
Three years later, Brian takes a job in Jamaica as a bartender at a resort to raise money for his own place. He finds a romantic partner in Jordan Mooney, an aspiring artist and waitress that he meets on the beach. Doug shows up in Jamaica, now married to Kerry, a wealthy woman who openly flirts with other men. Doug bets Brian that he couldn’t “pick up” a new customer named Bonnie, a wealthy older woman. Brian accepts the challenge and wins Bonnie over. As they go back to Bonnie’s room, Jordan sees them. Devastated, she takes a plane back to New York City.
The next morning, Brian regrets sleeping with Bonnie. He goes to find Jordan but learns that she’s gone. Doug teases Brian about the situation but Brian decides to upstage Doug by returning to New York with Bonnie. He reluctantly assumes the role of kept-boy and grows annoyed by her lifestyle. They have a blow-up during an art exhibit when Brian gets into a fight with the artist.
Brian shows up at the diner where Jordan works. She rejects his flirting but agrees to listen to his apology after work. They talk but Brian keeps saying the wrong things. Then, to his surprise, she tells him she is pregnant with his child, and tells him to leave. He decides to prove to her that, despite being a bartender, he would make a worthy father.
Brian learns that her family is wealthy, and goes to her parents’ Park Avenue penthouse to speak with her. Jordan’s father attempts to buy Brian off, but he refuses the money. Jordan refuses his advances, not wanting to be hurt again.
Brian meets up with Doug, who confides that his wife’s money is nearly gone, lost in the commodities market. Doug is unwilling to admit to his bride the precarious position they are in. Later, Kerry makes Brian take her home when Doug is too drunk to do so. Once inside her apartment, she attempts to seduce him. Brian stops it from going any further out of respect for his friendship with Doug. Kerry is angry at being rejected and calls Brian a coward.
Brian goes to check on Doug and discovers he has slashed his throat and wrists with a broken bottle. After the funeral, Kerry sends Brian a letter, which is revealed to be Doug’s suicide note. Brian realizes that Doug killed himself because his life was a sham.
Reeling from losing his friend to suicide, he returns to Jordan’s parents’ home and begs her again for forgiveness. He tells her that Doug killed himself because he was too proud to ask for help and that Brian doesn’t want to make the same mistake. He promises to take care of her and their child. Brian and Jordan leave together, with her father pledging not to give a dime to the couple.
Brian and Jordan get married and have their wedding reception at his Uncle Pat’s bar in Queens. Uncle Pat lends Brian the money to open a neighborhood bar called “Flanagan’s Cocktails & Dreams.” At the Grand Opening, Jordan reveals that she is pregnant with twins. Brian offers free drinks to celebrate, much to his Uncle Pat’s chagrin.
The film was based on Heywood Gould‘s semi-autobiographical novel published in 1984. Gould had worked as a bartender in New York from 1969 to 1981 to support his writing career. Gould said he “Met a lot of interesting people behind the bar and very rarely was it someone who started out wanting to be a bartender. They all had ambitions, some smoldering and some completely forgotten or suppressed.”
Gould says the lead character “is a composite of a lot of people I met, including myself in those days. I was in my late 30s, and I was drinking pretty good, and I was starting to feel like I was missing the boat. The character in the book is an older guy who has been around and starting to feel that he’s pretty washed-up.”
Universal bought the film rights and Gould wrote the script, changing it from his novel. He says the studio put the project in turnaround “because I wasn’t making the character likable enough.” Disney picked up the project “and I went through the same process with them. I would fight them at every turn, and there was a huge battle over making the lead younger, which I eventually did.”
Gould later admitted that the people who wanted him to make changes “were correct. They wanted movie characters. Characters who were upbeat and who were going to have a happy ending and a possible future in their lives. That’s what you want for a big commercial Hollywood movie. So I tried to walk that thin line between giving them what they wanted and not completely betraying the whole arena of saloons in general.”
Tom Cruise expressed interest in playing the role, which helped get it financed.
“There were a lot of bartenders around like Tom Cruise, younger guys who came on and were doing this for a while — and then 10 years later, still doing it,” said Gould. “It wasn’t as if I was betraying the character. It was a matter of making the character more idealistic, more hopeful — he’s got his life ahead of him. He turns on the charm, without the cynical bitter edge of the older guys.”
Bryan Brown later said the original script “was one of the very best screen plays I had ever read. Very dark… about the cult of celebrity and everything about it…. Tom Cruise is a very sweet man, he was then and still is. But when Tom came in, the movie had to change. The studio made the changes to protect the star and it became a much slighter movie because of it.”
Bryan Brown was cast on the strength of his performance in F/X.
Gould says the tricks involving throwing bottles was not in the book, but something he showed Cruise and Bryan Brown. They used it and it became a prominent feature of the film.
A music score was originally done by Maurice Jarre. A new score was added at the last minute.
Kelly Lynch later said the film “was actually a really complicated story about the ’80s and power and money, and it was really re-edited where they completely lost my character’s backstory—her low self-esteem, who her father was, why she was this person that she was—but it was obviously a really successful movie, if not as good as it could’ve been.” She claimed Disney reshot “about a third of the film… and turned it into flipping the bottles and this and that…. But we had a really great time. And Tom was so much fun, just a ball to work with, both on and off camera.”
Cocktail was a financial success, earning $78.2 million at the North American box office, and $93.3 million globally to a total of $171.5 million worldwide.
The film received negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 5% of 40 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 3.9 out of 10. The website’s critical consensus reads-
“There are no surprises in Cocktail, a shallow, dramatically inert romance that squanders Tom Cruise’s talents in what amounts to a naive barkeep’s banal fantasy.”
It won two Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay while Tom Cruise was nominated as Worst Actor and Roger Donaldson as Worst Director. The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson‘s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave Cocktail a negative review, calling it “an upscale, utterly brainless variation on those efficient old B-movies of the 1930s and 40s about the lives, loves and skills of coal miners, sand hogs, and telephone linemen, among others.” Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times was also critical of the film, explaining that “the more you think about what really happens in Cocktail, the more you realize how empty and fabricated it really is.”
“I was not happy with the final product,” said Gould. “It got so savaged by the critics … I was accused of betraying my own work, which is stupid. So I was pretty devastated. I literally couldn’t get out of bed for a day. The good thing about that experience is that it toughened me up.”
In 1992, Tom Cruise admitted the film “was not a crowning jewel” in his career.