The Beach Bum Review

Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum is an ode the enchantingly uninhibited. A Florida stoner folk legend about chasing life’s ever-euphoric bliss at all costs, torn straight from the pages Jimmy Buffett’s secret diary. As Korine remarked during the film’s SXSW introduction, his latest lime-garnished cinematic cocktail is formulated as a direct response to negative forces that’ve defined mainstream culture over recent years. Mission accomplished – for damn sure – but there’s a stark irresponsibility to the message put forth by Korine’s titular karmic renegade. This wasted-away Margaritaville vagrant who strolls through life, tall-boy in hand, and has everything worked out.

Viewed purely as a device to distract from negative vibes, you couldn’t shoot a more vividly beautified 90-minute substance bender – as aimless as it is gorgeously cinematic. A warning, description, and guiding tagline that shouldn’t surprise fans of Korine.

Matthew McConaughey stars as greasy-haired rambling “stoned guy at the party,” aptly dubbed Moondog (“Well Hung” painted on his junkyard barge). His life is one of pleasure, especially when dancing through lover’s rhythms with his enviously wealthy wife Minnie (Isla Fisher). He’s a poet by trade, happiness seeker by choice, and weed aficionado thanks to kingpin best friend Lingerie (Snoop Dogg). From start to finish, The Beach Bum is about Moondog’s pursuit of his American dream and the completion of a long-teased poetry collection – with enough marijuana smoke worth an audience contact high.

Korine’s orchestration of wayward sunburnt bar-hopping is not without trippy-as-sin highs that mirror Moondog’s situational elation. Zac Efron’s portrayal of a preacher’s son – self-dubbed “Tiger” – who befriends Moondog during a brief rehab stint leaves no stone unturned as Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets To Paradise” defines their relationship. Martin Lawrence appears as Captain Wack, a dolphin enthusiast whose sightseeing boat tours have only killed four(ish) people so far – rather astonishing considering his poor judgment. Snoop? A revelation as Lingerie, Jimmy Buffett, and Moondog freestyle a Moondog-themed musical tale while sailing the seas on a tech mogul’s dream yacht (complete with topless female companions and heat-packing security). Moondog’s party never ends, and the guests who join him only add more insanity (and bonded crotch grabbing in Jonah Hill’s case).

Benoît Debie’s cinematography takes Floridian locales from Key West to Miami and color saturates with the most divine neon hues. No matter Moondog’s meandering nature – holed up in another dive, swimming while holding a joint above water, blasting fireworks during a nighttime celebration – The Beach Bum is a travel and tourism bureau’s picturesque daydream. Poolside lazy days and beachfront properties glisten under the sparkling warmth of southern shines, deep aqua blues and flashy garment accessories popping like rainbow starbursts scene by scene. Say what you want about Moondog’s careless journey, but The Beach Bum is astonishingly alluring.  

Moondog sings a siren’s song of listless wandering, given how the unashamedly upbeat poet’s “live or let die” attitude never wavers in its liquor-sippin’ glory. When interviewed, asked what makes Moondog different, McConaughey’s modern bard remarks that life is hard enough as is. “Fun is the gun,” and those who embrace uncontested enjoyment nurture glowing auric souls. This rhetoric, again, coming from the privileged caucasian man who’s tied to Minnie’s estate (conflict challenges this golden parachute, of course)? It’s a tempting notion, and not wrong – lord knows we all need a little Moondog in our lives nowadays – but there’s something odd about watching schemes and general dumbfuckery continue to pay off for this hobo caricature.

Korine targets social constructs of 9-5 mundanity and “dependability.” A long-running gag continually knocks Joshua Ritter’s “dependable” husband to Moondog’s daughter (played by Stefania LaVie Owen). “You’ll never be brilliant like my father,” she says in a matter of words to her newlywedded partner. Moondog’s constant ragging on those who buy into corporate rigors and scripted everyday safety is, again, something that makes one think about “saying hello to the sun” now and again, but it’s also oddly framed given Moondog’s circumstances? No blowback, no consequences, and a poster manchild for stumbling upwards through life – to a satirical degree – anchored by advantages abound. Moondog’s shenanigans are epic, although repetitive and shanty whimsical for only so long.

It should come as no shock to note how McConaughey’s acoustic-scored tour through tropical fantasy worlds is a sight to behold – howling at the sky, adapting sex stories with Minnie into objectively touching art, and getting away with everything but murder. A blunt in one hand, pounding away at an old-fashioned typewriter with a single left-handed finger punching key by key. No one wears a captain’s hat better, no one loses themselves to the primality of hippie spirit Gods as transcendently, and no one summons civil abandon like this moonshot maniac who doesn’t see clothes defined by gender. FYI, y’all are gettin’ a heapin’ helping of bronzed McConaughey thong cheeks.

The Beach Bum is a pier dweller’s story of riches to rags to riches with zero stakes. Harmony Korine terrorizes social classes and challenges audiences to find their inner zen beach, yet runs thin on magic despite Matthew McConaughey’s charismatic jester performance. Self-fulfilled cleansing thrives in anecdotal humor, but when credits hit – leaving Moondog exactly where we’ve met him – it’s hard to feel like we’ve experienced anything more than a taste of unrealistic “bliss” (money doesn’t buy happiness). Not all films are meant to be deeply analyzed, but it’s hard to escape finding overall meaning, which will certainly not work for all audiences. The Beach Bum tries for better and worse, but doesn’t quite succeed.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

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About the Author

Matt is an NYC internet scribe who spends his post-work hours geeking about cinema instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don't feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged).