Who Knew Cheap Beer Could Say So Much?

Note: I’m serving Jury Duty but didn’t want to abandon my Mysteristas blog day, so I resurrected this blog from 2010 (which is practically last century!). It’s about cheap beer and Walter Matthau and the Bad News Bears, and surely there’s some heart in there…right? –Diane


Last weekend TCM showed THE BAD NEWS BEARS. And, being the timeless classic that it is, I pushed aside anything else that might have been on my agenda and watched. And while it is true that I only saw it for the first time last year, there’s something about the spunk factor of the movie that I find captivating. That, and Walter Matthau.

So . . .Walter Matthau. He doesn’t play the most likeable characters. He generally plays crotchety types, and it should be no surprise when you start watching a movie with him in it that he’s going to be cranky and maybe throw a few things around, and complain about what other people are doing. Add in a bunch of little leaguers and watch the crankiness begin.

Like I said, you know what you’re getting when you watch a Walter Matthau movie, so the challenge becomes building a character with depth who can grow. You probably won’t connect at first with this beer-swilling drunk in the beginning of the movie. In fact, I think they do a good job of painting a person that you won’t like at all. And you might even question why you want to watch this guy for the next two hours (the kids and the spunk factor help). As far as the hero’s journey goes, he’s a little further back on the sliding scale of sympathetic characters.

I was particularly impressed with the way the props people illustrated his character. Sure, he goes through the movie with that classic Matthau scowl on his face and hunch in his shoulders most of the time, but that comes with the territory. But during his first scene in the dugout, he’s drinking Schlitz. Yep, I noticed the beer. And I thought, “Ha, he’s a Schlitz drinker. That figures.” Immediately I got an image of the kind of person that I think drinks Schlitz beer and felt I knew him better. But, the next dugout scene he was drinking Old Milwaukee! And then Budweiser! And then Coors! This made no sense. Now, he wasn’t even a Schlitz drinker . . . and I so liked thinking of him that way. Now he was just a beer drinker. Not just any beer, actually. Well, yes, any beer. Probably whatever is on sale.

That says a lot, don’tcha think? This man is a drunk, and he doesn’t even care about what beer he drinks. Nobody I know would drink a Coors as easily as they’d drink a Bud. The simple decision to give him a different six-pack for every game drives home the fact that he has no loyalties. Makes him real, if a little less likeable. Put him a few steps backwards on the Hero curve, which, if you think about it, give him a few additional steps to travel in his Hero Journey.

I think this is spot on. If you’re going to make up people and tell stories about them, your people have to be flawed. And I’ll go one step further. They’re not all smart. At least, not smart like you and me. Every person who stumbles upon a dead body won’t do the right thing. Even if they are good people. Some of those people will inevitably do the wrong thing, inexplicably, which makes their life more difficult. And puts them further away from the curve of the likeable hero. But if you stick with them, these are the characters who have the furthest path of growth. And watching them stumble upon the way, while you’re mentally telling them “don’t go in that barn!” or “stop listening to him!” your frustration can invest you into the character, until they start making the right decisions and you feel like they’re finally listening to you.

Leave it to Walter Matthau and cheap beer to teach me a lesson.

Diane Vallere | @dianevallere

Author: Diane Vallere

Diane is the author of four mystery series. Like her character Samantha Kidd, she is a former fashion buyer; like her character Madison Night, she loves Doris Day movies, like her character Polyester Monroe, she lives in California; and like her character Margo Tamblyn, she has a thing for costumes. Find out more at http://dianevallere.com/.

7 thoughts on “Who Knew Cheap Beer Could Say So Much?”

  1. Diane, this is very timely. I’m working on a project right now where the hero isn’t perfect. He’s a good detective, but trauma has made him a bit of a jerk in some ways. Love the phrase “a few more steps to go on his hero’s journey.”


  2. I hope you are enjoying jury duty and acquiring a few new character traits among the voir dire responses! This is a great post Diane. I never would have noticed the beer. Really drives home the point that the nuances are so important. Thank you for a great post.


  3. Lack of loyalty to a beer choice is an interesting detail that makes a character come alive.

    BTW, I will be interested to see how your jury duty experience comes out in one of your stories down the road.


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