The Beach Bum and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon
Directed by Harmony Korine
Did you know that I once asked John Waters a question at one of his shows? Yeah, unlike people who actually do this for a living, I don’t have any celebrity stories to speak of, but I saw him at a show once and he picked me during the Q and A. Anyway, my question was whether I thought his work had been a major influence on modern filmmakers and if anyone in particular came to mind. He said that he doesn’t really see himself DIRECTLY influencing people, but that he did break down barriers for others who would come later… and he also said that Todd Solondz as Harmony Korine have PROBABLY seen his films. I don’t know if that means much in relationship to the latter’s most recent film, but I figured this is probably the best chance I had to tell that story, so there it is! As far as Mr. Korine himself, I’ve only ever seen Spring Breakers which I actually liked quite a lot, though I haven’t seen it in years and I get the feeling that it’s more uncomfortable moments don’t hold up all that well, but that’s why directors solider on and film NEW movies such as this one here! Is The Beach Bum another success for this unique voice in Hollywood, or has his worst tendencies come to the forefront even more so than usual? Let’s find out!!
Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) is just some dude who spends his time in the Florida Keys bumming drinks off of people, sleeping on the beach, and finding joy in life wherever he can find it. Oh, and he’s also a famous writer, super rich, and has a loving family who he can go back to any time he needs to dry out from his latest binge. His wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) adores his free spirited attitude towards life, love, and the law, but that last one kind of gets them in trouble as the two end up drinking and driving on the night of their daughter’s wedding (Stefania LaVie Owens) and Minnie ends up dying in the crash. In her will, she tells Moondog that he won’t inherit her vast fortune until he finishes his latest novel which he’s been procrastinating on for some time, so he decides to do just that. Of course he’ll be getting drunk, having sex, and… well doing what he’s always been doing as well, but he’ll find time to write a few lines here and there! With adventure, drugs, friends including his buddy Lingerie (Snoop Dogg), is there anything that can keep Moondog down? Will he eventually finish his book before he runs out of whatever money he has left as well as the goodwill of the people he’s met throughout his wild and bombastic life? You know how some movies are clearly made so the filmmakers can take a vacation? Why do I get the feeling that was the case here but less luxury hotels and more drinking tequila under a bridge and calling it “research”?
Meh. I mean I can recognize that it’s not a TERRIBLE movie and for some people it will be right up their alley, but it is definitely not up mine as I just found it rather obnoxious. It’s just an aimless travelogue through this guy’s day to day existence which CAN work with the right main character, but the film’s fatal flaw at least as far as I’m concerned is just how unpleasant of a character Moondog is to follow. He’s not nearly as smart as everyone says he is, the plot twists itself into knots or drops story points entirely just to keep him from being perturbed for even a moment, and by the end of the movie it feels like nothing has been accomplished other than a large quantity of drugs and a few () hook ups. It’s an utterly numbing experience that tries to get you into its hedonistic lifestyle without realizing just how boring that can get without something to contrast the highs with, and while I think that MIGHT have been the point of the movie at least in some small respect, the filmmakers just can’t pull themselves away from the monster they’ve created long enough to realize how boring it is to experience second hand from the audience point of view. Sure, HE may be having fun, but the vicarious thrills wear off almost immediately and I ended up just sitting there waiting for him to finish getting his rocks off so that I could move on with my day.
What bothers me the most about this premise is that it lacks any sense of urgency which in turn made it impossible for me to feel the least bit invested in it. Moondog is just a total ass of a person and worse yet he’s completely shielded from consequences due to being an obscenely wealthy and somewhat famous white dude which means he never has to grow as a character at any point. It’s like a man child movie where they never get around to the character needing to become an adult, and MAYBE that could have worked in a much darker context (this could have easily been something akin to The Wrestler) but the light fluffy atmosphere of the whole thing only further undercuts whatever point is being made. Maybe the point IS its pointlessness, or perhaps we’re supposed to take away that his hedonistic lifestyle is only numbing his pain? I mean if that’s the case then whoop-de-doo to Harmony Korine for uncovering the truth about late stage capitalism! It still doesn’t make this entitled jerk wad any less unpleasant to watch. Then again, this guy’s whole deal is something I just never enjoyed so maybe I’m a bit too uptight to groove on his specific way of living. I’ve always hated the beach, I don’t like drinking, and I’d rather play chicken with a train than spend all day on a boat, but to this guy that’s all he wants out of life and I guess I can’t fault someone for finding a vicarious sense of enjoyment out of watching him cruise through life on free beer, free drugs, and an absurd number of naked women more than willing to hump him for some inexplicable reason. Even then though, it still feels inauthentic because once again he is VERY wealthy and is basically just a poverty tourist trying to make a connection with people who ACTUALLY only have the clothes on their backs instead of some dude who can retreat to his mansion at any time. Even with the turning point in the story that makes that not quite as easy as it was before he still has options to get himself out whenever he wants, and the finale didn’t earn him an ounce of street cred with me, so perhaps I’m too hard to please or this guy is REALLY that much of a tool. Frankly, I’m leaning towards the latter.
The movie this is most comparable to would definitely be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, so if you wanted a Johnny Depp free alternative to that film then I guess this would be the ticket. Still, I think it’s worth discussing why I think that film did the premise so much better than this one, and it kind of goes back to what I was talking about earlier. Both films are (arguably) about brilliant writers who find themselves stuck in situation that requires at least some degree of focus, but would rather spend their time getting blitzed out of their minds; consequences be damned. Hunter S Thompson though had deadlines and was not obscenely wealthy; not to mention that he was still something of a nobody and could easily get thrown in jail at any point if he took things too far or ran into the wrong person while high. Even if Thompson ultimately “gets away” with his ridiculous escapade into Las Vegas, the movie doesn’t tell you fairly early on that he’s more or less immune to consequences so the scenes of him struggling to get a story, surviving rough situations, or just walking down the street without attracting attention, carry with them a sense of danger that this movie completely lacks, and without that danger I Just didn’t find the scenarios all that funny or engaging. Not to mention that it feels a lot more honest about it subject matter as the two guys on this binge are NOT good people and the path of destruction they leave in their wake clearly reverberates throughout the film. Here? It’s just one thing to another, and not even the filmmakers can be bothered to care about any of it.
There are some bright spots in this movie, and like I said I don’t actually HATE it as much as I’m just kind of ambivalent towards it. The best thing it has going for it are its side characters as the movie goes through a rotating cast of notable celebrities to do their shtick while McConaughey is off to the side laughing at them. My eternal crush for Zac Efron continues with his performance in this which is frankly the scenes of the movie that feel the most like Fear and Loathing (in that there’s an element of danger for both of them who go WAY too far with their night of debauchery), and Martin Lawrence has a ridiculous little vignette that’s liking watching a car crash in slow motion for how morbid yet compelling it is. It was a movie that kept winning me and losing me as it’d do something I enjoy but then just putter along for another ten minutes before finding something else I liked which at least kept it moving but it never found a great pacing for me and I was bored more often than I was entertained. Even the lesser scenes though are helped by some really great cinematography and a soundtrack that may not be MY taste but certainly fits the scenarios well enough. And yeah, I guess McConaughey is doing a bang up job in this eccentric performance, but I honestly enjoyed him much more in Serenity where he at least seemed to care about the situation he was in instead of just doing goofy stuff over and over again because he can get away with it.
This movie almost feels almost like a biopic about a real person who is still alive, in that it can’t show TOO much of them in a negative light. It’s kind of funny that the movie which is ACTUALLY based on a real person managed to tell a more nuanced and less flattering story than what I can only assume is Harmony Korine’s self-insert magnum opus. It’s token gestures to serious issues about grief, life, and the endless consumeristic rat race that capitalism has put is in don’t really add enough to make this feel like anything more than fluff that I’m sure will appeal to some but is still not something I can recommend seeing in theaters. It’s laid back and vignette style pacing will probably work better as something to watch at home anyway, so just wait the few months it’ll take to get there. Heck, I’m pretty sure Moondog would have bought a bootleg copy of that from the back of a trunk instead of seeing it in theaters; though that probably has more to do with none of them letting him in without taking a shower first.