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The Beach Bum

My pirate stage musical finally wrapped (It was awesome beyond all my wildest dreams, by the way!) and I suddenly have a lot more time on my hands. For so long, I’ve only had the time to check out the A-list release of the weekend at whatever multiplex was in easy reach, and now I’ve got an appetite for something more obscure and less orthodox. So of course Harmony Korine is the order of the day.

I never fully recovered from seeing Spring Breakers on the big screen, and my knowledge about Trash Humpers by reputation is as much as I ever want to know about that movie. Suffice to say that if Harmony Korine is making a film, you know it’s going to be a neon-colored oddity with no-holds-barred debauchery and batshit hedonism, probably with a dash of satire against capitalist excess. And now he’s made a stoner comedy with Matthew McConaughey and Snoop Dogg.

God help me, I just had to see this.

The Beach Bum tells the story of Moondog, played by McConaughey. A few years back, he was a counter-culture writer who defined a generation with his poetry. Now he’s a washed-up barfly trawling the Florida coast;  banging anything with a pulse; subsisting pretty much entirely on cocaine, marijuana, and PBR.

(Side note: The movie cost a reported budget of $5 million, and the Pabst Blue Ribbon product placement in this movie had to be worth at least twice that. And this is coming from a Portlander, for fuck’s sake!)

Meanwhile, as Moondog blows through all his money, his wife (Minnie, played by Isla Fisher — I don’t know why she’s playing this role instead of Korine’s wife and recurring collaborator, but I’m not complaining) has clearly been investing her money very wisely. She’s built up an extraordinary mansion back in the civilization that Moondog hates so much, all while banging Moondog’s best friend (rapper/pot dealer Lingerie, played by Snoop Dogg) on the side. It’s kind of an open marriage, to be clear.

Then there’s the matter of their daughter. Heather (played by Stephania LaVie Owen) evidently learned from her father’s outrageous drunkenness and got herself engaged to someone so straight-laced and dependably boring that the rest of the cast primarily refers to him as “Limpdick” (played by Joshua Ritter). Moondog is there for his daughter’s wedding and hilarity ensues.

I could go into his literary agent (played by Jonah Hill), the rehab patient who becomes Moondog’s partner in crime (played to the cheap seats by Zac Efron), the tragically inept boatsman played by Martin Lawrence, Jimmy freaking Buffett playing himself in a prominent supporting role, and so on and so forth. But really, that would be giving any of them more time in this review than they get in the movie. Moreover, any attempt to recap the plot would be moot.

The bottom line is, it’s a Harmony Korine picture. The visuals are garish and neon-colored. The plot is deliberately non-existent. It’s a totally amoral movie about an immoral protagonist who just wants to be free and have a good time, in spite of a system that insists on rules and responsibilities, with little if any regard to the occasional collateral damage.

The difference is that in Spring Breakers, at least our main characters faced consequences and very real danger for their actions. In this picture, when there’s even a rare and remote possibility that Moondog could face any kind of reprisal for the shit he pulls (and he should absolutely be doing serious federal prison time for some of the shit he pulls in this movie), it’s quickly either forgotten or hand-waved away. The stated reason is that Moondog is a genius author who needs all of this insanity to fuel his creative process, but the filmmakers never really sell that. I personally found it more likely that Moondog got away with all this crap because he’s a charismatic old white man on the godforsaken Florida coast.

The issue of white privilege is never once brought up, even with all the people of color in the cast. Then again, I’m not sure I would trust Korine to do the subject justice. No, instead Korine screws up the notion of money as freedom. It’s bizarre how Moondog and his friends can only live such extravagant lifestyles because they’re rich, and yet the movie ultimately seems to come down on the side of rejecting wealth. I’m not sure I get the overall message here, and I don’t know if trying to sort through all the mixed messages would be worth the effort.

The Beach Bum is pure chaos, for better and for worse. All of the performances are charismatic (especially McConaughey, of course), the visuals are mesmerizing, and I was genuinely fascinated to know what would happen next. Yes, the movie can be contradictory and nonsensical, but at least it’s never boring and it’s totally unlike anything else out there. Chaos is like that.

This one gets a solid rental recommendation.

(P.S. If you’d like to throw a tax-deductible donation toward my next project and maybe spread the word about it, I’d be more than grateful.)

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