REVIEW: The Beach Bum [2019]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: R | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: March 29th, 2019 (USA)
Studio: Neon / Vice Media
Director(s): Harmony Korine
Writer(s): Harmony Korine

“Chase the moon”

It’s as though writer/director Harmony Korine breathed life into a Jimmy Buffett song with his latest film The Beach Bum considering how effortlessly it allows its lead character Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) to skate by in the moment with a laissez-faire attitude balanced atop the simple desire to have fun. The musician even cameos as himself, lounging around R&B singer Rie’s (Snoop Dogg) yacht while surrounded by naked women. But even though the script is bare bones and devoid of narrative drive beyond allowing Moondog to move from one wild scenario of his own making to another, those checkpoints are more akin to an epic in the vein of Forrest Gump than the low stakes sensory tour of “Margaritaville”. This journey feels hefty even if it’s all illusorily so.

Rather than meet presidents and participate in seismic cultural sea changes, however, Moondog ends up giggling with and sexing up a menagerie of eccentrics based on the wildly unique folk Korine met in the Florida Keys while filming Spring Breakers. So we watch him bust out of a rehab center with the panini-coiffed Flicker (Zac Efron) and sit idly by while Captain Whack (Martin Lawrence) swims with sharks. Whether the event leaves people fugitives from the law, down one limb, or literally flying blind, Moondog merely smiles at the memory before dropping a poetic chestnut either lifted from one of the greats or written on the spot (friends and family believe he is a great). Then he rides an invisible wave of electricity to his next makeshift port.

Here’s the thing, though. He objectively is a genius. This isn’t some dreamland wherein Moondog thinks everyone loves him. They actually do. He can walk into a bar and kiss a stranger on the lips while everyone else reflexively screams his name on sight. His wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) accepts the philandering, loafing, and imbibing because she knows the magic inside his brain is fueled by the freedom leaving her (in a mansion she owns—like everything of worth the couple possesses—that he’s always surprised to remember he go) provides. She therefore keeps him afloat when those supplying an endless supply of booze, pot, and sex aren’t sheltering him instead. His agent (Jonah Hill‘s Lewis) hopes for a new book, but Moondog is too busy getting inspired.

The only reason we meet Minnie and Rie in Miami is because Moondog’s daughter Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen) is getting married. You can imagine the crazed atmosphere of that soirée (everyone calls Joshua Ritter‘s groom “Limp Dick”) and the potential for tragedy to follow such unchecked revelry. The result sees Moondog forced into taking stock of his life and perhaps embracing the need to clean up his act, publish something, and put the chaos behind him. That of course lasts a day at most before the call of the wild earns McConaughey’s trademark smile to reignite the no holds barred spontaneity. So either you enjoy this never-ending frivolous dance or you tire of it. Despite being of the latter, Moondog and company’s infectious allure still won me over.

Does that mean it’s good? Not really. It is highly entertaining, though, with some memorably unhinged characters only overshadowed by those standing by with straight faces because they are truly in awe of Moondog’s brilliance. This is a guy who types with one finger on a typewriter while sipping or toking God knows what under the sun. A guy who can’t make it to his daughter’s wedding on time because he’s too busy having sex with a woman in some Miami restaurant’s kitchen while everyone knowingly smiles and nods as though nothing is out of the ordinary. You ultimately believe the behind-the-scenes stories of Snoop switching out the prop marijuana with his own potent strand because it makes more sense than being told the shenanigans on-screen were scripted.

And it goes nowhere. Moondog can’t evolve when the entire world thinks he’s already more evolved than anyone else. It’s not therefore dumb luck that he prevails a la Forrest Gump, but mass delusion. He excels because everyone is hypnotized by his burnout mystique. He has the money to do whatever he wants and the persona to watch it erupt into flames since it doesn’t rule him. So you never know what might happen next or who will ultimately be hurt in order for him to carry on. The Beach Bum is an alternate reality where the public has over-compensated the opposite way and hailed slacker culture as God-like rather than irredeemable. I’m surprised the handicapped victim Moondog and Flicker steal from doesn’t thank them for the experience.

Korine has appropriated this seedy aesthetic, legitimized it, and set it free to see what happens. Will Moondog win a Pulitzer for the cocktail-napkin ravings of a sex-addict or blow himself up without feeling a thing considering he’s perpetually too high to understand emotion let alone pain? Will he acknowledge the grief of a loved one’s death or will the film brush it under the rug because that death is more usual as a catalyst than point of clarity? It seems like Korine is intentionally pushing his lead into situations that narratively demand growth only to give the middle finger to precedent and let unmitigated silliness reign supreme. Moondog can’t be undone by society’s demand for maturity when his society believes that immaturity makes him a perfect man.


photography:
[1] Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) in THE BEACH BUM. Courtesy of NEON and VICE
[2] Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) and Lingerie (Snoop Dogg) in THE BEACH BUM. Courtesy of NEON and VICE

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