Entertainment » Movies

The Beach Bum

by Derek Deskins
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Mar 13, 2019
'The Beach Bum'
'The Beach Bum'  

There Matthew McConaughey sits, long blond hair limply falling at his shoulders, a snaggle tooth protruding from a friendly snarl. All he wears are a pair of flip shades, a captain's hat, and a bright purple thong. He gingerly passes a massive joint to his left, where Snoop Dogg receives it with the grace of a priest during communion. The jets of the tub purr, Snoop takes a massive toke and, as our eyes scan past a bevy of topless women, we settle on the close of our circle: Jimmy Buffett. No, this isn't a dream I had drenched in THC-rich smoke; it's just the joyful insanity that is "The Beach Bum."

In the Florida Keys, there is no man quite like Moondog. A drifter first, a lover second, and a drug-fueled poet third, he breezes through life as only Moondog can. He has no other goal but to have a good time, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, a life of booze, drugs, sex, and boats requires a certain level of financial support, and the only way Moondog can maintain his is to finish his novel.

While "The Beach Bum" does have the guise of a plot, it isn't entirely concerned with doing all that much with it. Instead, it prefers to flit about, hopping from idea to idea looking for whatever could be the best time. And while this isn't entirely out of character for writer-director Harmony Korine, this is perhaps his most upbeat adventure. Of course, that isn't saying all that much given his cinematic output. Even "Spring Breakers," which up until now was his "funniest" oddity, couldn't help but venture down a long and dark road in the end. But no, not here; "The Beach Bum" is nihilistic in its quest for pleasure.

It'd be easy to credit Matthew McConaughey's performance as Moondog for the success of "The Beach Bum." This isn't to say that McConaughey doesn't slay in what may be his McConaughey-iest performance since he emerged as Wooderson, because he absolutely does. His Moondog is a modern day The Dude if the slurper of White Russians had a strong preference for "Hamburger in Paradise" over "Bad Moon Rising." But it isn't just McConaughey going for broke; the entire cast has drunk deeply of this trashy Florida potion (I imagine it tastes like a mixture of PBR, watered-down margarita, sand, and a discarded Mickey Mouse ice cream bar slowly melting in a gutter).

Isla Fisher convinces in her adoration for Moondog, a feat not to be belittled. Jimmy Buffett and Snoop Dogg do what they are best at being themselves. Zac Efron pops up for a bit of the insanity as if Korine has some deal with Nickelodeon to indulge the darker impulses of former Disney Channel stars. Jonah Hill is a literary agent by way of Foghorn Leghorn, which is as ridiculous and enjoyable as it sounds. And then there is Martin Lawrence's dolphin cruise-providing Captain Wack. Accompanied by his coke-addicted parrot, he manages the task of upstaging McConaughey in his own movie.

The most difficult element of "The Beach Bum" is determining whether or not it is actually any good. The temptation is to call it "Surfer, Dude" but art. However, that feels not the least bit disingenuous. The thing is, "The Beach Bum" couldn't care less if you think it's substantial or necessary in any way. It isn't here to vie for awards or establish itself as some kind of cultural touchstone. From its first drag to its last explosion, it is determined to enjoy itself. It's like a teenager in this way, laughing at you mockingly as it erects a massive sand castle that on closer inspection is a towering and merry hard-on (that also happens to be a bong).

It is tough to say where "The Beach Bum" lands in the oeuvre of Harmony Korine. It is undoubtedly his lightest contribution and the least likely entry to make you want to take a bath after it finishes. This happier Korine, a director that appears to be looking at a screwed-up world and deciding that he would much rather joyfully destroy a mansion while taking bong rips, is him at his most accessible. With a filmography that has a penchant to be labeled "cult classic," "The Beach Bum" is Korine's unrelenting party movie and just may end up being the one with the most staying power.

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