The movie cocktail - what's your poison tonight?

From Cosmpolitans to Manhattans, Martinis to White Russians – Kaleem Aftab considers the role of cocktails in movies

Joaquin Phoenix has announced he's turning his back on acting to pursue a career in hip-hop. Well, if Two Lovers really is to be his movie swansong, then is a Brandy Alexander really the last cocktail he wants to be filmed ordering? While waiting for the object of his affections, Gwyneth Paltrow, to arrive at a bar, Phoenix's neurotic character orders this mix of brandy, crème de cacao, cream and nutmeg, much to the bemusement of the waiter, who even asks if he'd like it with a straw and umbrella. It's not a drink that I ever imagine the actor actually having drunk, but it fits perfectly with his emotionally unstable, lost puppy character.

The sweet-tasting Brandy Alexander was the cocktail ordered by Jack Lemmon in Days of Wine and Roses that starts his non-drinking wife, played by Lee Remick, on a journey towards Alcoholics Anonymous. The director of Two Lovers, James Gray, says, "Brandy Alexander tastes like chocolate milk; it's kind of delicious and gets you drunk pretty quick. Some girl told me to order it because it was delicious. I drank it and threw it in the movie because I thought it was funny."

It's a drink that defines Phoenix's character in the movie. He's not cool and he's susceptible to the whims of others. Indeed he's the latest in a line of movie characters who are known for and defined by their drink as much as by their actions.

The most famous drink in cinema is, without doubt, a Martini, "shaken, not stirred", as drunk by James Bond. He even has a nickname for his favoured vodka Martini, a Vesper, after his first love, Vesper Lynd. There are a lot of variations on how to make the perfect Martini and, in the latest Bond flick, Quantum of Solace, the director Marc Forster has Daniel Craig instead tell the barman exactly how he'd like it served: "Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon."

The Bond legend has also ensured that the Martini has become the best-known cocktail. But the drink's movie status goes back further: the quip "Why don't you get out of these wet clothes and into a dry Martini?" was apparently made by Robert Benchley, an extra on the 1935 China Seas, starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.

However the best example of a character describing how to mix a drink is in the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski. Jeff Bridges' character "the Dude" is seen perennially slamming White Russians, and will order this drink, made with vodka, Kahlua and cream, which he also refers to as Caucasians, even when he goes around to people's houses and his hosts have no idea what he's asking for. A decade after the release of the cult classic, The New York Times claimed that the Dude had made what was considered a passé drink trendy. The reason it seems so apt is that the drink is simply not cool.

There is another school of movie character who drink cocktails to mark themselves out from the crowd. Robert Downey Jr's reporter Paul Avery makes a huge show out of the fact that he drinks Aqua Velvas in David Fincher's Zodiac. The most eye-catching feature of this cocktail, named after an alcohol-based mouthwash, is that its most important ingredient is Curaçao, which is what creates the blue colour. Amusingly the concoction is also the drink of choice of Jake Gyllenhaal's Robert Graysmith who picks up on the investigation of the San Francisco serial killer when Downey Jr gives up. Fincher obviously thinks it's the cocktail for depressed newsmen.

It's not just boys who like their cocktails. Carrie Bradshaw retained her penchant for Cosmopolitans when Sex and the City made its big screen debut last year. The drink of choice of the style icon played by Sarah Jessica Parker was always going to catch on when the show became such a cultural phenomenon. It's the drink made famous by Yuppies in the 1980s. The girls were always drinking cocktails throughout the TV series. Another drink frequently consumed in Sex and the City was a Manhattan, a mix of whisky, sweet vermouth, ice and bitters made famous by Frank Sinatra and his cohorts in the Rat Pack.

One of the more hilarious requests for a variation of the Manhattan comes in the 1990 Penny Marshall movie Awakenings, when a woman coming round from a coma discovers that Prohibition has ended and orders a Rob Roy. She is obviously nuts.

Alternatively you can forget the established list of cocktails and just go the Withnail and I route of placing an array of drinks on the table, from gin to red wine, and drinking them in quick succession. This has become the basis of the popular drinking game based on the movie in which participants try to match Withnail drink-for-drink. Lighter fuel is an optional extra, reserved for the pedantic.

Cocktails have shown themselves as one of the best shorthand routes to tell you all you really need to know about a character. You are what you drink.

'Two Lovers' is out March 27

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific