The Beach Bum (2019)
director: Harmony Korine | Runtime: 1h 35mins | Comedy, Drama
Extravagant writer Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) spends his days smoking weed and getting drunk, drifting from place to place. It isn’t until his wife Minnie’s (Isla Fisher) fortune is at stake that Moondog must focus on a new book to get his dues.
Harmony Korine is one of those directors who causes divide between critics and audiences a like with his rough structures and sometimes quite toxic expressions of the human experience, while his outright style isn’t exactly controversially on the same level as someone like Lars Von Trier, the principle of divide still remains the same. His latest feature yet again explores these very ticks that make a Korine film, but unfortunately the McConaughey driven The Beach Bum may see your opinion of the director become a little negative, as he takes narrative structure and tosses it aside like one of the titular characters beer cans and paints a pretty dark picture for us to look at.
When I say dark, I don’t mean a nihilistic approach or literal dimmed lights, but more the experience of watching a human getting so close to some form a rehabilitation to then have no pay off. This is actually applies to McConaughey’s Moondog, a so-called genius writer who now spends his days frequenting the beach in search of the next party, occasionally finding the time to go home to his uber rich wife Minnie, and for his daughters wedding. Surprisingly this is a strong start as character development goes, but when Minnie dies in a car crash and Moondog is left with an ultimatum (of sorts), his arc becomes muddled and unclear. To receive his wife’s fortune Moondog must publish a book, something his wife has wanted for so long, and try to clear a better path for his genius. It’s at this point the film spirals into different scenarios that see a bleach blonde McConaughey smoke weed, smoke more weed, mug an old man with Zac Efron, all while continuously donning a can a beer. This is where the arc suffers the most as it’s lack of coherence paints it’s main character as a worse and worse person, who then eventually becomes a pulitzer prize winning author. Maybe it’s Korine’s intention to paint the picture he has but it slowly becomes a hot mess of frustration and lack of clarity.
It seems as though some stars are lining up to work with Korine with the likes of Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Jonah Hill and even Zac Efron sporting early 2000’s clothing and questionable facial hair all joining McConaughey on his trip. If you had to make a comparison, the style McConaughey seems to going for is part reimagining of his role in Dazed and Confused (1993) and part James Franco in another Korine venture, Spring Breakers (2012). These two characters brought together do actually make Moondog a very lovable character at the beginning (explaining why everyone around him bends to his needs), but eventually the inebriated McConaughey wears this character out with a poor arc and a very one dimensional approach. It’s clear what attracts actors to the roles in the film but it seems even more clear that the lack of depth makes for a schtick that quickly wears thin. Since the McConaissance’s inception around 2013, McConaughey has added yet another questionable choice to his catalogue of film alongside the likes of The Sea of Trees (2015) and the failed franchise of The Dark Tower (2017).
Any arthouse film can tell you that structural integrity in a film can be interpreted in different ways, there’s no rule saying you can’t find your path in how you want to express yourself. However, Harmony Korine seems to have completely disregarded any attempt at narrative coherence. In Spring Breakers he seems to have a nonchalant attitude as well, but at least with that he’s providing an experience and exploring the ideas of what it truly means to be bad how far you can go with it. With The Beach Bum it doesn’t feel quite like that, despite having a fitting ending for a character like Moondog, everything seems short-lived and forgettable whilst Korine keeps building his main character to no real payoff. Conceptually though The Beach Bum could have worked as an off-beat comedy that explores a characters quest to prove themselves, or even a drama that shows the shortcomings of such a person for them to see their lives crashing around them. But this is neither unfortunately, and while you can’t stifle someone’s vision with ‘whatifs’ and ‘what could have been’, you find yourself thinking of a the lost potential that sits in front of you.
Much like Moondog’s raunchy and quite literal poetry, you hope that Korine is smarter than he looks and embedded somewhere in this film is poetry of it’s own. But you can’t help but feel like Snoop Dogg’s monologues about the affects of weed are as deep as it goes, and as for McConaughey – despite his performance being extremely reminiscent of what really does make him a great actor at times, you can’t help but feel that maybe the McConaissance is over.