The Beach Bum
Harmony Korine's The Beach Bum is a meandering exploration of genius, anchored down by an all-in performance by Matthew McConaughey. The Beach Bum might squander its running time with repetitious drunken endeavors, but it has a lot to say for a film that appears to be about so very little.
Writer/Director Harmony Korine‘s (Spring Breakers) latest film The Beach Bum is another performance-driven escape film that gets lost in Margaritaville as Korine hones in on one very particular character, played with laid back swagger by Matthew McConaughey. The Beach Bum‘s intentions might not be clear, while the film wanders from bar to bar, but it’s still a fascinating exploration of genius, false representation and true intentions.
The Beach Bum follows Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), a genius poet and writer that initially appears to be a bumbling idiot, yet is granted the ultimate pardon of all responsibilities because of his creations and seemingly good intentions. Moondog lost himself in the Florida Keys and is struck with the responsibility to finish his life-long novel in order to receive compensation and future drug and beer money.
Now, this is a Harmony Korine film, which means that things are never as cut-and-dry as they appear. On the surface, The Beach Bum appears to capture the heart and soul of a drifter, a kind-hearted bum that just wants a few bucks to continue his never-ending good time, but as the film progresses, we slowly start to unravel the true intentions of Moondog and his inevitable curse on society and those around him.
The Beach Bum is about a lot of things, as most Korine films are. It’s a depressing reflection on wealth and social classes, commenting on the clumsy and lazy “you can’t touch this” nature of the upper-class, while also poking fun at what it truly means to be a genius.
This can be seen throughout the film as Moondog both reads his poetry and comments on his ability to basically do whatever he wants, because he’s so smart and because he comes from wealth.
Take away his wealth and his smarts and Moondog becomes another annoying bum that can’t run away from the law forever.
Korine’s commentary gets even more interesting if you dig into the character of Moondog, played with a heart of foolish gold by the always enigmatic Matthew McConaughey. Moondog’s story allows him to cross paths with many friends and family and if you pay attention, you start to notice that bad things almost always happen to those that help Moondog, despite Moondog almost never suffering the consequences. It’s a slight-of-hand trick that keeps Moondog appearing to be a bumbling idiot that’s not as dumb as he looks.
Oddly enough, the most relatable performance of the film comes from Snoop Dogg, a close friend that Moondog shares the love of his life (Isla Fisher) with. Snoop’s performance might be fueled by weed and booze, but he’s far from the downright psychotic characters played by both Zac Efron and Martin Lawrence.
Efron’s character represents the true turning point for Moondog as he goes from harmlessly consuming drugs and alcohol to actually damaging property and robbing an innocent man in order to keep the party going. This again is presented in a way that makes Efron’s character the bad guy, but the reality is that Moondog actively participated and never once stopped to deescalate the situation.
Martin Lawrence‘s Captain Wack appeared to be hitting a good spot of luck, commenting on how his dolphin tours have given him a “new” truck and enough income to live happily, despite four deaths during his short stint.
But Moondog’s presence brings turmoil and hilarious misfortune to Wack, which again, brings no real consequences onto Moondog.
The Beach Bum is easily the weirdest and most ambitious film of 2019 so far and I think that it’s going to take a lot for any film to come and dethrone it. Korine’s ability to write such creative and bizarre characters and moments is impressive and worth the price of admission.
Unfortunately, The Beach Bum sits out in the sun for a bit too long, becoming an overcooked experiment that never really knows when to call it quits and start applying the Aloe and Aspirin.
Matthew McConaughey is dynamite and commits to the film and the character without hesitation. Teaming up with Harmony Korine was the perfect idea, because Korine knows how to write memorable characters, even if the film itself never quite reaches the same heights.