Release: Friday, March 29, 2019
Written by: Harmony Korine
Directed by: Harmony Korine
Spoiler alert for those who demand any lessons or morals be taught in a movie: The Beach Bum is not for you. It’s a hedonist adventure “from the mind of” Harmony Korine, a not-for-everyone kind of filmmaker notorious for creating dreamlike experiences that more or less forsake substantive story for hypnotic style.
His latest once again brings together a wild assortment of famous people: Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill, Zac Efron, Snoop Dogg, Martin Lawrence and Mr. Margaritaville himself, Jimmy Buffett. However The Beach Bum is more notable for being the first time the Gummo director has collaborated with Matthew McConaughey, who plays the titular tropical vagrant, a sun-bleached blondie who goes by the name Moondog. Once a lauded poet he has become human driftwood floating through life in the Florida Keys, getting tangled up in all sorts of situations that are perhaps best left for your own two eyes to try and process. He’s a character who is larger than life but smaller than legend, one who somehow makes James Franco’s gangster seem boring (though I raved about him in my review of Spring Breakers).
The Beach Bum is a bizarre trip full of lows but far more highs — the ones delivered by gas mask bongs, joints the size of a child’s arm and bud-producing trees kept in special rooms. With apologies to Fast Film Reviews’ Mark Hobin, I need to steal a line: The atmosphere is so drugged out you could almost get high by association. This is taken from a review of a certain Paul Thomas Anderson movie from 2014, but it is an apt description of this experience as well. Oh, and There Will Be Boobs. Like, an abundance of them. An anchor-less vessel who frequents the sun-kissed beaches and small tourist traps freckling the tropicana, Moondog just can’t help but be around and/or in between them.
If there is a story to be deciphered here it’s how Moondog draws upon his mangy, transient experiences for inspiration to return to his old writing form. I’m no judge of poetry but his seems the kind of shallow you don’t make deeper, even by getting more baked. Lingerie, played by Snoop Dogg (a real-world connoisseur of kush and good rhymes) digs it though so what the hell do I know. Accompanied by a stray kitten he finds in the opening scene, an almost endless supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon tall-boys and an actually endless supply of zest for living by his own code, the man and the narrative become one and the same, stuck in idle throughout. Zac Efron and Martin Lawrence get caught in his wake along the way, all while his daughter Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen) grows increasingly worried about his stability and his wife (Isla Fisher) pays a steep price for loving him.
The main issue with The Beach Bum is not its lack of “a point.” It’s that Korine insists this gadabout has virtuous traits. He’s not flagrantly abusive like the loser Efron portrays and even in thongs he’s not as cartoonish as the skuzzy douche of an agent Hill plays, so I suppose he’s a crop above but his Better Self is so well buried that his journey to self-actualization becomes contrived at best. This is not exactly harmful tokage but it becomes surprisingly challenging to separate in your mind the likable McConaughey from the frequently less-than-likable Moondog. Call that commitment to character. The Beach Bum isn’t a very good movie. It is, however, the epitome of a Harmony Korine experience. The cinematography is sexy and dripping with color, and that is at least enough to get a good buzz off of.
Recommendation: I’m a big fan of Matthew McConaughey, who winds the clock back to Dazed and Confused as Moondog, and his commitment to another memorable character here is not to be understated (it’s the reason this final rating is as high as it is) but I didn’t really find his character entirely redeemable. Anyone who saw Spring Breakers and didn’t get along with it probably should give The Beach Bum the old swerve. It’s available on Hulu though so really all it will cost you is a breezy 90 minutes . . .
Running Time: 95 mins.
Quoted: “I get all these things going, man, and they are all turning me on. And my wires are connecting upstairs and I start to hear music in my head. You know, and the world is reverberating back and forth and I hit the frequency and I start to dance to it. My fingers get moving, my head gets soupy, I’m spinning all over the f-ing place, and the f-ing words come out.”
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