The Sexual Politics of Cult Classic Tom Cruise Film, ‘Cocktail’

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The Cringeworthy Reaganism Floating Atop the “Cocktail” Cult Classic: Sir, there’s too much flair in my watered-down drink. 

"Cocktails & Dreams" says it all | Tom Cruise in cult classic, 'Cocktail' (1988)
“Cocktails & Dreams” says it all | Tom Cruise in cult classic, ‘Cocktail’ (1988)

“What’ll you be having?”

“I’d like an orgasm.”

“How many would you like?”

“Multiple.”

When viewed today, the 1988 cult classic Cocktail certainly shows us that nothing much has changed in terms of the sexual politics of the bar. It’s still all winking innuendo and lofty promises, though much of the preening, misogynist bravado has been (thankfully?) replaced with love/sex trolling apps either at the bar or at home, after the drinks have been drunk.

“See that town— we’re gonna own that town,” Tom Cruise’s Brian Flanagan points out a dolefully anachronistic Twin Towers-ridden NYC skyline to a toddler on the Greyhound Bus while driving back home from military training. He has just put down his dog-eared copy of How to Turn Your Idea into A Million Dollars, so we get a quick idea of who this guy is: heavily invested in the idea of molding himself into the 1980s corporate culture’s idea of American Dream.

Cocktail was released in 1988 and is an eerie, depressing reflection of its place in cinematic history. ’88 was the last year of the lofty economic goals of the Reagan administration and was the year the US first connected with Europe to create what would be known as the world wide web. Anything–even friendly relations with Russia–looked possible.

And anything was possible—to a white-collar white guy with lofty connections, anyway. Once the eager, blue-collar Brian Flanagan is brutally rebuffed from every Wall Street and Madison Avenue agency (education or experience being a prerequisite for either), he lands a bartending gig and discovers that his charm, his smile, and his way around a bottle flying through the air earns him tips and breasts a-plenty. Who needs business school when you can coast on charm and flair bartending until your million dollar idea comes along?

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Tom Cruise in “Cocktail,” 1988

Brian makes his way to a cush bartending gig in Jamaica, where he meets the movie-saving Elizabeth Shue, a shining, teased-hair’d beacon of honesty posed against a charismatic yet deeply unsatisfied and constantly scheming Flanagan and, oh yes, an inordinately dopey script. The bar is again presented as a grand metaphorical scale of Truth & Justice: the venue for either a way to level-up socioeconomically, or an egalitarian opportunity to truly connect with another soul and fall in love. Brian falls in love, but expectantly mucks it up by choosing a rich woman for her connections over his true feelings for Shue.

But! Not before engaging in such cringeworthy dialogue such as “It wouldn’t be any fun if they fell over with their legs in the air now would it?” after being (momentarily) rejected by a woman “smarter and richer” than he. Such antediluvian dialogue would never fly from the mouths of the hero in today’s cinema, but hey, it’s the 80s! And Kelly Lynch seems to only have a wardrobe full of bikinis!

But perhaps the most shudder-worthy moment of all in today’s context is when a middle-aged woman in Brian’s class is ridiculed for wanting to be “The Donald Trump of the cookie business.” Oh, poor Woman #3. She would have had so many better role models by now. Nigella Lawson, she hardly knew ye.

Critically panned yet grossing over $171 million worldwide, Cocktail’s reception is as emblematic as its haphazard core themes that the script returns to again and again

Critically panned yet grossing over $171 million worldwide, Cocktail’s reception is as emblematic as its haphazard core themes that the script returns to again and again: the myth of the self-made man reigns supreme, and substantive character isn’t a requirement to win at the box office of life. The local watering hole has and will always be the venue of choice for lubricating oneself enough to convince the rest of the world what you’ve known all along: That you’re gonna make it, kid. You’re gonna own this town. Just, after one more Slippery Nipple…

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Catch a screening of Cocktail together with us at Tenants of the Trees. Doors open at 7pm, screening starts at 8pm, and social lubrication abounds with drink specials til 10pm.

Out of Order presents: Monday Cinema | Cocktail
Hosted by cinemathread at Tenants of the Trees
2808 Hyperion Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027

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