The Beach Bum (2019)
Directed by Harmony Korine
Hahaha… Oh, Jesus Christ. I’m expected to seriously critique a film by Harmony Korine? There’s no way a review can ever fully tackle the bizarre world of Hollywood’s enfant terribles. Korine’s latest offering shows that despite its starry cast he’s lost nothing of his flair for the freakish, outrageous and hilarious. The art house director will never sell out. This stoner comedy is going to divide its audiences between those who fall in love with it's surprisingly optimistic vibe and those who are offended and unsettled by its excesses. As for me, I had a fucking blast with it, this is one of the best films of 2019.
We’re introduced to Matthew McConaughey’s Moondog as he cackles away like one of the Trash Humpers long-lost relatives. Inspired by individuals Korine met in the Florida Keys, Moondog is unshaven and unkempt. He spends his days dancing in women’s clothes, shades on, broom in hand, Pabst Blue Ribbon in the other, a spliff nestled into the corner of his mouth. Moondog is living his best life. If he’s not eating his wife’s pussy while she gets a pedicure by the poolside he’s walking around town with an actual pussy in his hand looking for the next buzz. Anyone familiar with Korine’s back-catalogue will not be surprised to find they feel both repulsion and great affection for this oddball-beatnik.
There is a plot, but you’d be hard-pressed to articulate it beyond the following; Moondog has been living off his wife Minnie’s (Isla Fisher) wealth. Half-baked and half-drunk he floats through his life on the Keys without a care in the world other than having sex and writing poetry. His best friend Lingerie (Snoop Dogg) is sleeping with his wife behind his back. When Minnie dies unexpectedly, he discovers that in order to inherit her fortune he must finally follow his dreams and write the next great American novel. Queue the madness.
The narrative isn’t really important here. This is a series of skits, scenes and thoughts thrown together the way an artist might flick primary coloured paints onto a canvas. They culminate to create an idea. A sense of a feeling. The essence of a dream. The dream tells you to keep dreaming. Just take it easy. Find joy. Find happiness in all you do and all around you. Let the world conspire to make you happy, you aren’t gonna stop it. Living without formal restraints, even if morally ambiguous, might just be the key to individual happiness.
As Moondog traverses life in the Keys he goes in and out of rehab, takes to the high seas, trips the light fantastic with Lingerie’s potent ganja and finds connections with the misfits and outsiders of society. The film has the most eccentric performances to accompany some bizarre casting. Zac Efron plays a Christian-music loving addict with a panini-inspired beard. Martin Lawrence, in his first film for eight years, plays a dolphin-loving ship’s captain. Jonah Hill hams it up with a Southern-twang as Moondog’s agent. Snoop Dogg is convincingly brilliant at playing a version of himself on screen. If anything, Isla Fisher is slightly wasted, but gender politics has never been a strong suit for Korine.
Some might say this is Korine’s most accessible work. Perhaps that’s true. The colours certainly shine bright. The sunsets are spectacular. The scenery is amazing. The outlook is optimistic. The vibe is infectiously seedy. Shit - Matthew McConaughey gives a performance up there with his best of all time. Moondog is able to find the poetry in all aspects of life and McConaughey brings believability to the role with his breezy-stoner persona. It’s a funny film, not just for us deviants, but for a casual movie-going audience too. The great shame of it might just be that the people who think they ‘get it’ really don’t get it at all. It’s not about the drugs, the tits or the partying. It’s about the joy in the anarchy. The great accomplishment of being a dissenting figure in a world full of compliant motherfuckers.
“He may be a jerk but he’s a great man. He’s brilliant. You’ll never be great or brilliant, you’re dependable”.
That’s what Moondog’s daughter tells her fiancé as she defends her father’s ways. The same can be said about Korine. I’d watch a million Korine films as they get lost in their own poetic madness, trying to reveal something incredible, than watch the same tired individuals serve up something palatable. Korine is out there with the likes of Gaspar Noe ensuring that we never rest easy when it comes to cinema. Occasionally it needs to be challenging and uncomfortable. It needs to shine a light on the corners of the world and the people on the fringes that we would rather look away from. Korine doesn’t follow the rules, but if you’re willing to let him take the reins you might just be glad he doesn’t.
Oh… And keep your eyes on the dolphins.