A film review by Craig J. Koban July 20, 2019

THE BEACH BUM j

2019, R, 95 mins.

 

Matthew McConaughey as Moondog  /  Snoop Dogg as Lingerie  /  Isla Fisher as Minnie  /  Stefania LaVie Owen as Heather  /  Zac Efron as Flicker  /  Jimmy Buffett as Jimmy Buffett  /  Martin Lawrence as Captain Rackz  /  Jonah Hill as Lewis

Written and directed by Harmony Korine

 

 

 

Watching THE BEACH BUM was akin to being forced to spend 90 straight minutes with an annoyingly dislikeable goon that simply won't leave you alone despite all efforts on your part to tell him to "go away!"  It was one of the most thoroughly unpleasant filmgoing experiences that I've had this year, which was made all the more unpleasant when one considers that there's sizeable talent in front of and behind the camera.  

This absolutely meandering mess of a movie is about, yes, a hedonistic and chronically inebriated and high beach bum that incessantly rambles on and on about nothingness and drinks, smokes pot, has lots of sex with many anonymous hook-ups... and over and over again...in no particular order.  THE BEACH BUM is barely a movie.  It's more of weakly assembled and mostly incompressible set of improvisational skits desperately in search of meaning and narrative purpose.  If you excuse a thanklessly committed lead performance contained within, I found THE BEACH BUM to be an insufferably self-indulgent and unwatchable piece of hot trash. 

The cinematic pairing, though, of writer/director Harmony Korine and star Matthew McConaughey is a most intriguing one on paper.  Korine made an infamous name for himself as the provocative writer of KIDS before moving on as a director in films like GUMMO and the more recently released SPRING BREAKERS (which I rewarded three and a half stars to in my review and described it as "one of the most strangely gorgeous, but toxic looking films I've seen").  The Oscar winning  McConaughey obviously needs no introduction, and his past penchant for playing aimless drifters with an alright, alright, alright sense of dopey nonchalance (made most famous in DAZED AND CONFUSED two plus decades ago) helped cement his career and image.  THE BEACH BUM is the perfect vehicle for the star that lets him embrace his quirky performance eccentricities in full force, but also serves as the only real reason to see this film.  The actor is wholly authentic as this monumental slacker in a constant state of boozed out, hippie contentment, but his character overall becomes intolerable within a few minutes of being introduced.   

 

 

McConaughey's titular beach bum, the Key West, Florida residing "Moondog," is the very epitome of washed up loser.  He was once sort-of-famous for his previous published books of poetry, but now is a mere shadow of his former self, and basically lives a pointless existence with virtually nothing of value to his name.  He spends his days puffing weed, aggressively drinking, and screwing any woman that will allow him within a few feet of them.  He has no place of residence and mostly sleeps wherever he passes out, but he still maintains close ties to his wealthy wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), who lives in a lavish mansion on the coast that she shares with her rapper lover, Lingerie (Snoop Dogg).  Minnie and Moondog are not only close personally and intimately, but they also mutually allow cheating on the other without a care in the world.   

Moondog learns that his daughter (Stefania LaVie Owen) is about to be married, and he finds himself invited to the ceremony, which leads to many highly awkward social misadventures that unfortunately gives way to family tragedy, which sends Moondog spiraling down and on a soul searching journey to find some sort of purpose in his life.  The overall plot that I've described here is an awful lot simplier than it comes off as, and one of the largest sins of THE BEACH BUM is that (a) it doesn't give us any credible reason to root on or even like its main character and (b) its haphazardly constructed plot never makes a compelling case for us to find Moondog's dilemmas and spiritual crisis worthy of our time.  THE BEACH BUM lumbers around from one incongruent moment to the next, which I guess is designed to mimic the sense of aimlessness of Moondog.  But the creative randomness on display here is tiresome and lazy.  It's almost as if Korine just started making this film without a screenplay, asked his actors to show up, and then he filmed all of their unscripted hijinks and later edited it all together in hopes that it would make for an interrelated whole.  The cobbled together aura of THE BEACH BUM overstays its welcome very, very early on; I was bored of this film within ten minutes. 

Let's talk about MOONDOG for a bit.  He's narcisstically driven by a sense of self-righteous purposelessness that's high (no pun intended) on pleasures of a multiple variety, and receiving pleasure no matter how debasing it is to him or how it hurts others.  The only thing carrying him through life are the substances that he's chronically addicted to on top of his sexual hunger.  This man is, for lack of a better and more dignified word, an asshole.  Even though he comes off as effortlessly laid back and hip, he's really an alienating jerk that has virtually no social graces.  That doesn't make a movie bad, though.  Some of the greatest films I've ever seen have involved amoral characters in some form or another.  There's an argument to perhaps be made that Korine is simply allowing us to observe this crude imbecile with a voyeur-like sense of fly-on-the-wall observation.  But Moondog isn't a charming rogue at all.  I found it hard to stand him, and impossibly hard to want to take this film's loopy journey alongside him. 

It's not McConaughey's fault that THE BEACH BUM is difficult to watch.  He gives it 110 per cent in a completely believable performance that's perhaps too authentic for its own good.  I'm sure Korine instructed the actor to just maddeningly let loose as much as he wanted to and he just captured the footage.  McConaughey is creepily effective in this perpetually askew performance, and there's probably not many other actors around that would display the same level of character immersion throughout.  McConaughey is supported by fellow actors like Zac Efron, Jonah Hill, and Martin Lawrence that all play broad and distracting caricatures (Lawrence's turn as a doomed dolphin tour guide culminates in a moment that's more disgusting than darkly comic).  Hill in particular comes off like he's been ripped off of the set of some poorly conceived SNL sketch that's dreadfully unfunny and feels like it's going on forever.  He's a good actor when given good material, but here he's frankly embarrassing. 

Maybe the worst thing about junk like this is that it's ultimately pretentious and thinks that it's saying something profound about its main character's unrelentingly free-wheeling masculinity and how the this once admired poet has hit perverted rock bottom and tries to find redemption.  Korine seems less inclined to dig thematically deep here and instead finds more amusement in showing off a loathsome fool for an hour and a half in hopes that we'll all find it engaging and humorous.  THE BEACH BUM was neither engaging or humorous, but rather an erratically compiled series of skuzzy vignettes in search of higher meaning without attaining anything resembling it.  It's shameful, because Korine has a great visual eye (SPRING BREAKERS and now this shows that he can capture the neon-hued and sun drench imagery of his locales with the best of them) and McConaughey is in complete thespian command here, but THE BEACH BUM is the kind of film that makes you want to delouse after watching it.  And after this and the equally horrendous and wrongheaded SERENITY from earlier this year it's not too hard to think that the awards nomination worthy McConaughnaissance is on critical life support when it should just keep on living..."L-I-V-I-N."

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