Johnny Depp has the lead role of Paul Kemp in The Rum Diary, a 2011 movie about a news writer; Depp is also the producer. It starts with a beautiful, red, single-engine airplane flying over the ocean near the coast, with Volare being sung, “No wonder my happy heart sings – Your love has given me wings…” – an absolutely beautiful scene – but then the pathetic writer wakes up in his dingy, dark, messy hotel room. He approaches the window and opens the curtain to see … the red airplane of his dreams soaring by with an advertising banner that says “Puerto Rico welcomes Union Carbide”.
He is in Puerto Rico to apply for a journalism job with a local newspaper.
Next, a waiter appears with a sumptuous room-service breakfast that he didn’t order. The waiter cannot help but notice that the room is a shambles. This is because the writer-protagonist is … an alcoholic, big time.
He takes a cab to the newspaper office to present his resumé and be interviewed. The editor tells him his CV is worthless … but he’s looking for “fresh blood”. The editor immediately recognizes the signs of a hangover. You can’t hide anything from him! Nonetheless, Paul Kemp gets hired.
There’s a reason for that. He was the only person who applied for the job! It comes out that Kemp has 2+1/2 unpublished novels. I can out-do that … I’ve got ten unpublished novels… one is about to be published: River Girl. But get this, the movie is taken from a semi-autobiographical novel by Hunter S. Thompson, who did manage to get his novels published and become a popular novelist before he passed away in 2005. See The Rum Diary: A Novel. Rum, as in… alcohol.
There’s a lot of alcohol in this movie. If I drank that much, I wouldn’t be able to write anything. The alcoholic writer scene wouldn’t work for me. Apparently it didn’t work too good for Paul Kemp either!
He is forced to attend a Union Carbide party for his job and while floating offshore, he meets a possibly naked swimming woman … is that normal? The movie then moves on to a bowling alley story he needs to write up.. and then back to work where his editor tells him he’s averaging 91 miniatures per week, on the paper’s tab! Because his expenses have overwhelmed the newspaper’s desire to support him, he must find new lodging. He moves in with a guy who makes money with cock-fighting. Some of these scenes are meant to be funny, and in a way, they do provide a diversion from the movie’s more serious intent to uncover and expose the evils of materialism and American capitalism.
He is invited to the home of a rich man for lunch… and there he meets the guy’s girlfriend, who is the same woman he met swimming near the party.
As it turns out, our hero, Paul Kemp, has a social conscience and want to write things that will help people thrive. His editor informs him that nobody cares, and that the newspaper’s priority is his advertisers, not poor suffering people.
I identify. At one time I owned a small town newspaper and found myself unable to write about some of the more important news stories because in a tiny town like ours it is a bad idea to offend half the town’s residents while trying to make the other half happy. I still live in this community, in large part because I managed to keep my news stories off some of the more outrageous issues. I’m not proud of that – but it is a true issue for anyone involved in the news business. How many enemies do you want to make? That is the question. You can’t print everything you know.
As Benjamin Franklin wrote: “He that would live in peace and at ease must not speak all he knows or all he sees.” That’s just a fact of newspaper life. Benjamin Franklin was a newspaper owner as well, and apparently had the same issues.
Anyhow – Paul Kemp: great character arc. Johnny Depp: great acting, as usual.
You can buy the movie at Amazon: The Rum Diary