The Beach Bum
Directed by: Harmony Korine
Run time: 95 minutes
The Lowdown: Following an uncredited debut in Larry Clarks’ Kids, Harmony Korine made his early mark as a purveyor of slacker trash cinema with films like Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy and Trash Humpers.
Some people loved his offbeat productions, but it wasn’t until 2012 that Korine finally got a taste of mainstream success with Spring Breakers, a nifty slice of youthful nihilism that featured a standout lead performance by James Franco.
Seven years later, Korine is back with The Beach Bum, which includes the following quote on it’s Blu-Ray box art from MovieWeb:
The ultimate stoner comedy for the modern age.
Reading that, you might think, “Oh yay, a stoner comedy. I love stoner comedies. I love getting high watching How High or the entire Harold and Kumar trilogy. They make me laugh so hard.”
Well, friends, I’m here to tell you, The Beach Bum ain’t a stoner comedy. It’s not even remotely funny. It’s just a pitch-black peek into the empty soul of a self-absorbed narcissist named Moondog (Matthew McConaughey).
We all know a Moondog; hell, some of us are Moondog, past our hard-partying prime, well into middle-age but defiantly throwing up a middle finger to traditional expectations.
McConaughey’s Moondog is not aging gracefully. He’s perpetually stoned and drunk. He’s holding center stage at the bar every night, interrupting the paid entertainment just to stroke his own ego.
He’s the kind of guy you feel sorry for, and sometimes jealous of, if only because Moondog exists in a world where normal obligations like paying bills and being responsible don’t seem to apply.
Sometimes, such characters can elicit an unexpected sympathy from the audience, especially if they are fully-formed and seem real. They might be hobbled in life, but they’re basically decent at heart.
McConaughey, however, starts out at “11” on the volume knob and never downshifts. His Moondog is a total trainwreck, right from jump. He heckles an audience that has come to hear him read some of his “poetry,” which Korine implies without justification is well-regarded in literary circles. He shoves a guy off of a pier for no reason other than Moondog thinks it’s funny to inflict abuse. He urinates wherever he feels like it. And he wears these obnoxious, over-sized sunglasses at all times, which make it impossible to forge a connection without seeing his eyes. The sunglasses might not be so frustrating if his mop of a wig was better.
The plot, for what it is, involves Moondog getting a call from his wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher, who looks luminous and is the best thing about this film), whom he travels by boat to visit in Miami, which is when we learn that Moondog and Minnie are fucking millionaires who live in a waterfront mansion and have a full staff of maids, cooks and everything in between (who they frequently have sex in front of). Minnie wants Moondog to be present for the wedding of their daughter to a nice guy whom Moondog repeatedly berates and embarrasses.
I’m not sure what Korine is trying to say here. Is Moondog a man-child because of his wealth, or is his bleary-eyed, doped-up naivete some kind of rebellious response to his tax-bracket as a one-percenter?
The Beach Bum shambles around for a while, including a bizarre extended sequence with Jonah Hill doing his best Foghorn Leghorn. Moondog nearly ruins his daughter’s wedding. He wanders into a bar and gets handsy with a stranger, who he then whisks away to the kitchen and screws in front of the cook, slapping her ass with a spatula while all the diners out in the main hall laugh and look uncomfortable.
With every scene, it’s impossible not to wonder why Moondog isn’t in jail. No one in normal society would tolerate this behavior.
And that’s where my main issue with The Beach Bum comes full circle. These types of comedies only work when the director goes completely bonkers and for broke. It’s why Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler is a bona fide cult classic, because Hosking is utterly fearless when it comes to celebrating depravity.
Korine used to be that kind of filmmaker. Trash Humpers literally was a movie about crazed geriatrics in Tennessee simulating sex with dumpsters and destroying public property.
What’s most disappointing is to see an actor of McConaughey’s caliber willingly playing along as he sets fire to all the good work he’s done in the past few years, including his much-deserved Oscar for The Dallas Buyer’s Club.
It’s a surprising thing to realize that McConaughey the thespian is basically pulling a Moondog and literally pissing all over his fans, especially the ones who stuck with him through the lean days of Sahara, Failure to Launch and Surfer, Dude.
The only reason to get high if you're watching The Beach Bum is to numb the pain you'll feel from the experience. That said, sadly avoid at all costs.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Isla Fisher is smoking hot.
Nudity – Yes.
Gore – No.
Drug use – Gratuitous.
Bad Guys/Killers – You only have yourself to blame if you actually waste time watching this.
Buy/Rent – Neither.
Us (Universal, 116 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Hands down, one of the best films released so far this year, and one of the best horror movies in recent memory, Jordan Peele’s follow-up Us blasts out of the gate and never lets its foot off the gas. This is intelligent, multi-layered filmmaking at its finest. With each repeat viewing, you discover something new. Run, don’t walk, to get a copy today.
Slaughterhouse Rulez (Sony, 104 minutes, R, DVD): The new British horror-comedy, Slaughterhouse Rulez, which was co-produced by co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is set in an upper-crust boarding academy where tenured students lord over newbies with all the grace and compassion of a one-percenter yelling ‘Get off my lawn!’ at a homeless veteran.
It’s not terribly original, but the premise has potential: The boarding school sits on land that is being developed through fracking by the headmaster (Michael Sheen). As the drills bore deeper, something mysterious starts stirring deep underground.
Unfortunately, despite its surprisingly packed cast, which also features Margot Robbie and Asa Butterfield, Slaughterhouse Rulez plays it too-too safe early on, withholding or downplaying a lot of the special effects creature work that might have quickly elevated the film, or at least made it more enjoyable.
It doesn’t help that anytime Pegg and/or Frost is on screen, all you can think about is Shawn of the Dead and how Slaughterhouse Rulez is nowhere near that caliber of movie. It's not really that funny, and the horror elements aren't really all that exciting.
This one will do in a pinch, if you’ve got absolutely nothing else to watch, but it’s a pretty tepid viewing experience overall.
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