The Beach Bum is one of the wackiest films I’ve seen in a while, an unexpectedly endearing stoner comedy trapped inside the body of a whimsical, beautifully shot art house flick.
Much like its titular slacker, The Beach Bum wanders aimlessly from one vignette to the next. There isn’t an overarching narrative or goal driving Matthew McConaughey’s Moondog from one particular place to the next. As he puts it, he just wants to have fun and whether or not you do with this film will depend on how willing you are to just go with the flow.
The Beach Bum is a character piece and Matthew McConaughey delivers an intoxicatingly babbling performance as an unkempt burnout living life on his own terms as a free-loving ladies’ man on a house-boat off the shores of Key West, Florida. But you know how they say not to judge a book by its cover? Well, as it turns out, Moondog is a world-renown poet and wordsmith. In fact, the film goes out of its way repeatedly to remind us of what a literary genius this bum truly is.
Writer-director Harmony Korine uses Moondog’s abilities to springboard discussions about talented individuals and how society allows them to get away with a lot more than the average person. At the same time, The Beach Bum explores wish fulfillment. Who among us doesn’t wish they could do whatever they wanted all day, every day yet effortlessly call upon some revered gift whenever things needed to get done?
The closest The Beach Bum comes to laying out a big-picture narrative comes when Moondog’s well-off wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), passes away. She leaves a stipulation in her will that demands Moondog finish his latest book in order to inherit his half of the mountainous inheritance. Even then, the film continues to dance to the beat of its own drum, opting to show us a series of small stories that are only connected through Moondog’s presence.
Each step along Moondog’s bogus journey is punctuated by one of a handful of charismatic guest stars. Zac Efron plays a paint-sniffing pyromaniac who wears a Bluetooth headset in his ear the entire time he’s on screen, despite never once using it. Martin Lawrence appears as a dolphin tour guide with a coke-addicted parrot. And Jimmy Buffet pops up in a couple scenes because why not?
Harmony Korine is probably best known for his divisive and equally artful Spring Breakers. Unlike that film, however, The Beach Bum brings a lighter touch to sun-drenched beaches and recreational drug usage, relying mostly on absurdist humor and quirky performances. But that’s not all.
Korine also brought me in into Moondog’s paradisaical world/mind-state by way of free-flowing camera work and neon-laden cinematography accompanied by the constant serenade of easy-going hits from Waylon Jennings to Gordon Lightfoot, Van Morrison, The Cure and many more.
The McConaissance may be over, but Matthew McConaughey isn’t going anywhere and if he continues to give us films like The Beach Bum, even if it’s only once in a while, he’s more than welcomed to make like Moondog hang around.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of five)
Have you had the chance, nay the opportunity, to check out The Beach Bum? Is it even something you are interested in seeing? Sound off in the comments below and let me know your thoughts on this odd little picture!