The Beach Bum | Harmony Korine | March 29, 2019
It’s been seven years since the always divisive director Harmony Korine released Spring Breakers, his most “mainstream” release to date. He follows that up with The Beach Bum, which in many ways feels like the spiritual sibling of Spring Breakers.
Our hangout sesh is with Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), a poet who spends more time getting either stoned or drunk (if not both at the same time) than he does writing meaningful prose. He lives off a diet of PBR and weed, and his hedonistic lifestyle has caused him to become a bit of a local Florida Keys legend. He spends most of his time partying and sleeping around, despite the fact that he is actually married to the wealthy Minnie (Isla Fisher). But it’s cool; she’s also cheating on him with his friend and singer Lingerie (Snoop Dogg).
Moondog is the sort of man who is nearly late to his own daughter Heather’s (Stefania LaVie Owen) wedding but still manages to win the affection of everyone at the reception despite his degenerate behavior. He gives people every reason to despise him but people just can’t get enough of him. After the wedding, an event unfolds that puts Moondog in a tight spot, where Minnie will no longer support him financially until he gets his shit together and finally finishes his next book. But Moondog is a man with his own vision and quest and he operates on his own time zone.
Korine’s film is a wandering aimless hangout sesh that feels like if Terrence Malick directed a film while smoking blunt after blunt rolled by Snoop Dogg himself. We go from scene to scene of Moondog just getting loaded or stoned, entangling himself with wild characters played by an eclectic group of big-time actors whose involvement in the film is more interesting than their actual characters. There’s Jonah Hill as Moondog’s agent Lewis, Zac Efron as an even bigger degenerate who Moondog meets in rehab, and Martin Lawrence as a delusional captain who gives dolphin tours in a crummy boat. Oh, and Jimmy Buffet, because why not.
There are undeniably some funny moments, such as a bizarre sequence involving Lawrence’s character mistaking dolphins for sharks, but even that feels like a wild left turn that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t serve any purpose or function the story. The film gives McConaughey free range to do McConaughey things but I can’t say that I ever found myself caring about the character or any of his interactions as there are no characters that breach likability or an ounce of relatability. Scenes feel like they drag out for an eternity and without any connection to the characters or the world, you care about the story just as much as Moondog cares about his liver.
McConaughey is absolutely in fine form is the role. It’s just too bad I couldn’t find more reasons to care about the character. But he is indeed firing on all cylinders and doing his best to keep the unfocused Korine-penned script afloat. The other shining star is cinematographer Benoît Debie who captures the Florida coast with a keen eye, capturing the world with eye-popping colors and texture that tells a more coherent narrative than the film ever does.
Some will be utterly charmed and eager to spend time hanging with Moondog and all these cartoon characters, but it felt like a bad party that I couldn’t escape because I was too polite to just get up and leave.