The Beach Bum - Review

Delirious, profound, and incredibly sexual, Harmony Korine’s latest film is a shining gem of McConaughey-laced bliss.

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Searching, wandering, peeking for another high: The Beach Bum is every stoner stereotype funneled into a joint and smoked at 1,000 miles an hour on a jet-ski. Harmony Korine’s carefree and glorious view of Florida (and the world) only gives, asking only that the audience ride along and shed their judgements.

With this film, Matthew McConaughey has completed his comeback narrative: star in an Oscar-winning indie, meet expectations in a massive blockbuster, and get tossed around by Disney until someone remembers what you’re good at. It’s easy to be wary of McConaughey’s druggy Moondog: he’s one of the type’s defining voices, but in The Beach Bum he provides a lightness and well-worn quality no other actor could have brought. Strangely, his experience in the role has lended the film a legitimacy Spring Breakers lacked in James Franco who, while excellent in his role, never managed to steal the show in the same way McConaughey does.

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Seeing that The Beach Bum is populated by Korine’s best cast yet, including Jonah Hill, Snoop Dogg and Zac Efron, it’s reassuring to see that McConaughey doesn’t get lost in the background. Not to say that the supporting cast doesn’t pull their weight, but their time is limited to appearances, brief excursions on the path that is Moondog’s trip through Florida. Jonah Hill and Martin Lawrence make memorable use of their time, but it’s Efron who continues to turn on the charm in films lacking his name on the poster: his panini-grilled face, boot-cut jeans, and general 90s swagger land like a paint balloon, suddenly transforming the film into something more dangerous and bombastic, echoing the exploits of Candy and Britt in Spring Breakers. His time is brief, and ultimately inconsequential, but that’s just the point.

In a relationship between director and cinematographer, Korine and Benoît Debie have formed a shining, saturated picture of Florida, highlighting the breathtaking sunsets and lavish surroundings The Florida Project captured so well in 2017. Nearly every other shot is a wide of ocean, sky, or excess; the beauty and riches of the state spilling into the population, and the subtler moments are no less meaningful. Dark greens highlight Moondog’s exploits in the Florida keys, underscoring the scummy personalities he interacts with.

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The film often runs like a documentary of his journey to writing a comeback novel, hinted at in the hilarious and strangely moving footage of a trimmed-haircut McConaughey delivering motivational jargon to a meager group of Floridians. The eventual release of the book coincides with the film’s existentialist message, in the idea that no matter how much money you have, you’ll still be the same person in your heart. It’s communicated in exaggerated circumstances, like Moondog winning the Pulitzer prize for his batch of sexual-metaphor poems, one of the many unbelievable moments in The Beach Bum. In what world does a screw-up like this win a literary award, and maybe deserve it? The question means nothing to the ideology Korine presents, and may be as ridiculous as asking why a CGI shark bites Martin Lawrence’s foot off halfway through the film. Take it in stride, and realize that life doesn’t begin at any one place, that the only thing preventing you from happiness is yourself.