Review: The Beach Bum

Director: Harmony Korine

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron

Matthew McConaughey’s perma-stoned poet burn-out Moondog careers through his life like an intoxicated playboy crashing his jetski into a pier somewhere down along the Florida Keys. The spectators will stand, slack-jawed, Moet & Chandon in hand until, lo and behold, that fortuitous bastard comes bobbing up on the shore without a scratch, laughing and walking sideways.

Harmony Korine’s first film since 2012’s neon requiem to youth and hedonism Spring Breakers feels like a continuation from a parallel universe. Imagine that James Franco’s Alien lived on, became a success, married rich and settled into a life of endless excess. Imagine he’d allowed his hair to grow out and he’d grown laid-back in his forties. Maybe then he’d be near to McConaughey’s Moondog. Or maybe this is what became of Wooderson from Dazed And Confused

When we first meet him, collected in montage as he haunts the jetties and bars of Key West, we assume he’s a freeloader and a loser; the ‘beach bum’ of the title. Homeless. But this is only one of Moondog’s many vacations. Home is a mansion with his wife Minnie (Isla Fisher), who’s sleeping with Moondog’s lifelong friend Lingerie (Snoop Dogg). Not that this matters much at all to Moondog, who’ll stick his dick anywhere it’s welcome. Chiefly, he’s returned for his daughter’s wedding, though he nearly misses it because he’s banging a woman he meets by chance at a burger stand… banging her in the burger stand… while burger patties are being made. Still, shirtless, he makes it, and the good times roll… until Minnie is killed in a car crash while the couple are out celebrating.

Weddings… funerals… parties here are patrolled by guards with automatic weapons, suggesting the gangster life of Moondog’s past-life incarnation Alien, while all occasions are an excuse for an astonishingly oversized joint or several cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Usually both.

Minnie’s death is a catalyst for change. Without her, Moondog is penniless. His half of the family fortune is conditional on him making something of himself. He’s doomed. “I’m having a gangbang when I get back,” he tells the groundskeeper as he waves goodbye, “I’ll invite your mother.”

Korine’s movie has a shade more plot than I had anticipated, which was a continuation of his Skrillex-soundtracked twist on Terrence Malick’s recent set of sunset songs. That sensibility is there, sure, but its fed through the blueprints of an 80’s high-concept comedy and a soundtrack more indebted to The Big Lebowski. In another age this might’ve been an Eddie Murphy flick. Between this, Serenity and his recent instalment at the University of Texas in Austin as a professor, McConaughey seems to have blissfully exited the other end of the McConaughaissance. Thank god. I’d rather have a half-dozen of these than two-dozen try-hard forgettables like Gold. McConaughey is at his best when he’s not giving a fuck. For The Beach Bum he seems legitimately stoned the entire time. Either that or he truly is one of the great actors of his generation. One day he’s gonna watch this flick for the first time and be genuinely surprised.

Spring Breakers felt like a kind of woozy state-of-the-nation address; a soothsaying flick that saw Trump and his cronies coming and decided to get fucked up while the getting was good. You’d be forgiven for thinking The Beach Bum documents the sad wake-up into our present shitstorm… except a sly prop reveals that its set in the final days of 1999. This situation sucks out the sense of overt political allegory, but it still feels like secondary comment. Korine’s only answer is to escape all over again.

“Now I got to feed my coke-addicted parrot…”

Moondog finds himself in rehab with Zac Efron’s ludicrously bearded George Michael-wannabe Flicker. They break out almost immediately. Efron, who dabbles occasionally in being brilliant, is on fire here, and jaunts along as the derelict Robin to McConaughey’s potheaded Batman. Middle-fingers to the wind, these two swig back the Pabst, wilfully denying the real world. Moondog sits at his typewriter, hammering the keys, a joint between his lips, rewriting the world to suit his selective myopia. And just like that, Efron breezes out of the picture. The Beach Bum drifts. We’re all just passengers in Moondog’s immortal experience.

Some will bemoan Korine, again, for championing delinquent behaviour, for loving the wasters, for embracing the concept of checking out of the whole fucking equation. Moondog’s continual pursuit of happiness, his endless escapism, is a sweet lullaby in our horrendous, tumultuous times. Who can blame him? As he puts it himself when Minnie first calls him home, “Eh, civilisation.”

For 95 minutes here, we get to daydream… what if we had the balls – or the privilege – to just saunter right out into the ocean and never look back.

Score: 

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