Premise: A rebellious stoner named Moondog lives life by his own rules.
The Beach Bum is my second outing with a Harmony Korine film after watching Spring Breakers on a whim back in January. Even though I didn’t like Spring Breakers, I enjoyed the abstract editing and overall strange and indistinct tone of that movie. It was as though Korine was making a statement about debauchery and youth in revolt flirting with crime.
However, in watching The Beach Bum, I fear I may have given the man too much credit with Breakers. The Beach Bum is a grueling, frustrating film simply because it’s so aimless by design. The film follows its main character, Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), as he lives a stoned life of carefree delight almost aggressively devoid of real drama or conflict. It left me genuinely questioning whether this movie was meant to be a drama about a stoner’s laid back attitude toward life or if it was a comedy about a bumbling, carefree guy coasting through it.
The sad truth is, I really think it’s neither of those things. Instead, The Beach Bum is just Korine having fun depicting a lifestyle and nothing more. There are bits of conflict and plot that trickle into the madness onscreen, but none of it goes anywhere because it’s not the point. This is just a carefree island lifestyle porn piece with nothing below the surface.
One bright spot in the mess is Matthew McConaughey, who has a lot of fun in this role. Even though Moondog is basically the classic McConaughey archetype cranked up to 11, he’s so good in the role that you don’t really mind. It’s a blast seeing him stumble through Key West, finding a cat, or stepping out of a pool to dance with his newly married daughter. It’s entertaining but ultimately hollow.
There was a moment where I had to pause the film and look up to see if it was labelled as a comedy or a drama. It’s intended to be a comedy, which was to my relief. However, the comedic beats fall incredibly flat and didn’t work for me in the slightest. Making matters worse was Korine’s weird fascination with purposely (at least I hope) editing in continuity errors into every scene. Given Moondog’s constant state of inebriation, I assume the desired effect in the editing was to disorient the audience. Intentional or not, it just left me feeling distracted and not committed to what was onscreen.
The Beach Bum is a frustrating fantasy look at a carefree island lifestyle. It’s got Jimmy Buffett on the soundtrack (and on screen) and a few flirtatious encounters with plot and/or conflict. Unfortunately, Moondog’s adventures amount to just surface-level escapades free of nearly all consequence or accountability. I see how these things can work for some people. But it just wasn’t for me and I’ll happily admit I was really glad when it was over.
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