Harmony Korine has been in the movie industry since he was a teenager. In that time he has made a name for himself in finding the humanity in the absurd, while also skewering society’s views of his subjects. Despite being somewhat of a polarizing figure, Korine has amassed quite the following, myself included, with my personal favorite being Julien Donkey-Boy. Sometimes his films do not always work as intended, but they are still unique amongst anything else being released, with a style all his own. While most of his directing efforts have had comedic bents or parts, The Beach Bum, his first feature since the very positive critical reception and successful box office run of Spring Breakers, is his first full-blown comedy.
Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) lives life on his own terms. The beloved poet and perpetual stoner lives in the Florida Keys with his wife Minnie (Isla Fisher). Her lover on the side Lingerie, Rie (Snoop Dogg) for short, is something Moondog doesn’t mind for the most part, as he constantly cheats as well. Literary agent Lewis (Jonah Hill) comes around, hoping to make a deal with Moondog. However, Moondog’s antics eventual land him in rehab.
Here, he meets kindred spirit Flicker (Zach Efron) and the two hatches a plan to blow the joint. They are successful, but the comfortable living, hard-partying lifestyle eventually catches up to everyone. On the day of his daughter, Heather’s (Stefania LaVie Owen) wedding to Limpdick (Joshua Ritter), a supposedly affectionate nickname, instead of attending, Moondog is heavily drinking at a bar. Can the charismatic but consistently unreliable Moondog ever get his act together?
“…beloved poet and perpetual stoner lives in the Florida Keys with his wife…”
Oddly enough, Korine seems to believe that Moondog doesn’t have to do that. There’s a quip by Minnie relatively early on that is something like “…one must accept that he (Moondog) is from another dimension.” Sure, the man likes to drink and do drugs. No judgment there, he is also not a hypocrite, as he is aware of Rie’s presence in his wife’s life. However, the movie thinks the drunken escapades of a super-rich white guy (Minnie’s net worth is $100 million+) is enlightening. They aren’t.
Returning home to Miami after a trip abroad the Well Hung, Moondog is about to go down on his wife and remarks “I always forget how rich we are.” The problem here is that the movie is not a send-up of the 1% or at least, it doesn’t work if it is. In Spring Breakers the send-up of gun fetishization and the culture that glorifies violence is direct, and the message comes across loud and clear throughout the movie. The Beach Bum is about a guy that is terrible to his friends and family and never learns his lesson.
Lewis, the agent, and Moondog briefly discuss his wealth, and the conclusion is that when you get rich enough, people will overlook your despicable behavior. A brilliant point that needs examining and Korine is just the person to be able to do so. Sadly though, aside from that talk, the politics of being a rich white guy and the power that comes with such is overlooked. Korine usually is very in your face about politics, religion, and the actual things society worships that he misses the mark is so much as surprising as it is disappointing.
“…it meanders about without much focus and is ultimately a pointless endeavor, individual moments are funny.”
The cast is all on point though. McConaughey is basically doing an exaggeration of his public persona, and despite that, he is excellent. The reason anyone likes or empathizes with Moondog is that McConaughey holds nothing back, including the darker aspects of the character, and it is an astonishing performance. Fisher has surprising amounts of chemistry with McConaughey, despite her more limited role.
Snoop Dogg looks like he is having the time of his life as Rie. However, it is Martin Lawrence as Captain Wack who gets the biggest laughs. As a friend of Moondog’s who confuses dolphins and sharks, Lawrence’s brief screen presence is hysterical.
That is what makes much of The Beach Bum so frustrating to watch. While it meanders without much focus and is ultimately a pointless endeavor, individual moments are funny. During its 95-minute runtime, you will be fleetingly entertained. However, you are still stuck with a main character whose reaction to someone’s death is reminiscing about how great of a sex partner she was.
The Beach Bum is not a terrible movie. The directing is competent, the score is excellent, and the cast is game and hilarious. However, considering who was at the helm, it is not focused enough and winds up with nothing to say. If you like Korine’s other films, this won’t satisfy you. If you dislike his work, this will not win you over.
The Beach Bum (2019) Directed by Harmony Korine. Written by Harmony Korine. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Zac Efron, Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Stefania LaVie Owen, Martin Lawrence.
6 out of 10 Beach Parties