Synopsis – A rebellious stoner named Moondog lives life by his own rules.
My Take – I will be completely honest here, director Harmony Korine’s films have never been for me, including his highly praised fever dream Spring Breakers from 2013. I hated the film on first viewing but upon a re-watch I was able to find the quality in it despite it being a really polarizing venture. While I do appreciate that he has a very specific point of view and he makes films certainly no one else is making, but his aesthetic and the way he treats his characters have never sat well with me.
His latest is no different, just probably more heightened with drugs, sex, and chilling. Everything that people either hate or love about director Korine’s films are evident here as in any other of his other films i.e. the aimlessness, the self-indulgence and the excess, the gratuitousness of it all. This is a film that, for better or worse feels pieced together from ad-libbed sequences.
It’s not hard to imagine director Korine renting a mansion and a yacht and then just dumping all these known people in front of some cameras and just seeing what happens. Yes, the film looks simultaneously gorgeous and garish, all radioactive sunsets, fluorescent clothes, and light shimmering along waves and guns and bongs, and also like Spring Breakers, it is frustratingly unfocused and seems bereft of a plot, with big chunks of the film feeling like basically music videos.
Whether the film is about anything, you’ll have to watch it to decide. Maybe it’s about living life on your own terms, or it’s some kind of comment on materialism and late-stage capitalism or it’s just simply about having fun, I had no clue as the end credits started rolling in. However, the film has one redeeming aspect, the performance of Matthew McConaughey, who doesn’t so much inhabit the character as feels like the character himself.
The story follows Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), a long-haired, bumbling, beer-swilling, weed-smoking wanderer in Key West. A poet by trade, happiness seeker by choice, and weed aficionado thanks to kingpin best friend Lingerie (Snoop Dogg), and lives a reckless lifestyle funded by his wealthy wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), who enjoys Moondog’s freestyle poetry as much as she enjoys his fellatio.
While usually disconnected from the real world, with exceptions like the marriage of their 22-year-old daughter Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen), who seems to have turned out all right despite having a narcissistic mom and a deadbeat dad, Moondog is only concerned about scouring the sandy paradise of Florida for inspiration for his next grand novel, and of course more weed/booze.
His travels leads him to making friends ranging from Captain Wack (Martin Lawrence), a cocaine-addled dolphin sight-seer to Flicker (Zac Efron), a drug rehabilitation patient to American musician Jimmy Buffett. The film is exactly what it sounds like: the misadventures of an eccentric, lovable dude being an eccentric, lovable dude.
Viewed purely as a device to distract from negative vibes, you couldn’t shoot a more vividly beautified 95-minute substance bender – as aimless as it is gorgeously cinematic. A warning, description, and guiding tagline that shouldn’t surprise fans of director Korine. Here, Moondog is a charismatic soul who just wants to spread positivity and have a good time, but the catch is he is also an undeniably awful person. More importantly, his antics aren’t all that funny or captivating, even when divorced from his usual idiocy.
Whatever idiosyncrasies may exist never fully make up for the fact that he constantly lies, cheats, and enacts violence upon others whenever it suits him. At one point, he shoves a hapless tuba player off a dock. At another, he and Flicker shove a senior citizen off his motor scooter so they can steal his money for drugs. He insults his daughter’s fiancée for being too stable, he shrugs off his friends and loved one getting severely injured or flat-out dying, and so on. All of it ends up played for laughs, rather than any kind of shock or horror. In the end this is a pier dweller’s story of riches to rags to riches with zero stakes.
Throughout the film, there is hardly any progression to the plot, which lacks any important points. The only thing propelling the plot forward is Moondog’s need to finish his book in order to get Minnie’s money, an uninteresting mission that is shown progressing only in random shots of his using his typewriter at various beaches.
Even though, director Korine spitballs a tragic incident into his narrative, telegraphed far in advance, that requires Moondog to jerk himself awake long enough to get cracking on the “great American novel” he’s been threatening to write. Failure to do so would compromise his cash flow.
But if you think this is the moment that will turn Moondog’s life around, you are wrong! Moondog doesn’t experience consequences, as he believes the death of his wife and soulmate is just another cosmic wonder. In her will, however, Minnie stipulates that her fortune will not pass on to Moondog unless he can finish his book of poetry, which sets the second act in motion.
Here, Moondog’s detachment from his family feels also unintentional. In fact, there are moments when it seems like McConaughey is trying to subtly express his character’s sadness about the death of Minnie, without much success. Even less subtly, near the end of the film, there is a montage of romantic moments between the two characters in a scene that is meant to portray Moondog lovingly longing for Minnie. Director Korine wants the viewer to think that they were in love, but it just doesn’t come across in the script or in the performances of the actors. The intention is obvious, and the poor execution is also blatant.
Instead, personally I feel the film might have worked as a fish-out-of-water comedy or redemptive story of a loser who finally learns how to win. Granted, there are a few moments where the screenplay appears to be flirting with the idea that we too often excuse or reward despicable people, especially artists, simply because we find them talented and interesting. The speed and ease at which accolades are bestowed upon Moondog is absurd, and he and his agent Lewis (Jonah Hill) even have a conversation about how being rich and famous now means that everyone else just has to accept your horrible behavior.
In my opinion the most redeeming quality of the film is its visual appeal. The variety of different shots of beaches and sunsets are stunning, and the film is filled with splashes of bright colors. The film offers up some interesting shots, like those of Moondog swimming in the pool at Heather’s wedding. Yes, the film is undeniably visually beautiful and diverse; however, the dragging plot and poorly developed characters drastically overshadow this.
Yet, Matthew McConaughey is still perfectly cast and is in a role he was basically born to play. His Moondog is a very outlandish character in all forms, kind of a like a more chilled out Alien, from Spring Breakers, but he gives it his own spin, in his usual McConaughey way.
In supporting roles, Isla Fisher seems to be having fun, while Snoop Dogg literally plays himself and is constantly entertaining. Stefania LaVie Owen too gets to shine in moments while Jonah Hill hams it up. However, in smaller roles, Martin Lawrence and Zac Efron, whose characters live lives similar to that of Moondog, are mesmerizing in their roles, funny, annoying, detestable, and completely captivating. On the whole, ‘The Beach Bum’ is a messy, weirdly mesmerizing and ambiguous film about awful people doing awful actions.
Directed – Harmony Korine
Rated – R
Run Time – 95 minutes