“That was profoundly meaningless” said my friend as we left the theater after Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum, and she was profoundly correct. Whether you think “profoundly meaningless” is a good thing, in this case, likely depends on how much entertainment value you derive from watching Matthew McConaughey, as titular beach bum Moondog, get high and get drunk and fuck with cops and have sex with strangers and play bongos while a snake slithers over him and stomp around in wacky boots and get high and get drunk some more and go to court and call his daughter's fiancé "Limpdick” and skateboard and then go hang out with Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Buffett. He also meets a coke-addicted parrot. Personally, I derive a great amount of entertainment value from these things, but your mileage, I assume, will vary.
McConaughey, sometimes cradling a confused kitten as he lurches from scene to scene and from bar to bar, his long blonde hair glimmering in the Florida Keys' bright sunlight and greasy neon, is doing something here that I can only describe as “X-Treme McConaughey,” and through all of Moondog’s highs and lows (mostly highs), Moondog never stops being a kinda fun, kinda gross, kinda depressing burnout. If you’re looking for any kind of character arc or a plot here, hey, good for you, but The Beach Bum is mostly just about going on some ill-advised adventures with sketchy ol’ Moondog.
The Beach Bum is simultaneously gorgeous and garish—all radioactive sunsets, fluorescent clothes, and light shimmering along waves and guns and bongs—and big chunks of the movie are basically music videos.
Oh! Right! It is also worth noting that Snoop plays “Lingerie,” Moondog’s BFF who’s also having an affair with Moondog’s ultra-rich wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher); Zac Efron plays “Flicker,” a vaping, Jesus-freak shitbag who Moondog meets in rehab; Martin Lawrence plays the dubious “Captain Wack,” who loads tourists onto his dubious boat to show them dolphins, and also sometimes kill them? (The tourists, not the dolphins.) Lawrence’s sequence is a thing of true beauty.
Jonah Hill shows up, doing a deeply strange routine as some kind of morose... Southern gentleman? Who is also Moondog’s literary agent? (Moondog is also, or at least used to be, a poet.) Meanwhile, Minnie dances, drinks, and tells her daughter (Stefania LaVie Owen) that Lingerie is an amazing lover and that she loves Moondog because he’s from “another dimension.”
Jimmy Buffett plays a character named “Jimmy Buffett.”
The Beach Bum is a movie that, for better or worse (mostly better? I think?) feels pieced together from ad-libbed sequences—it’s not hard to imagine Korine renting a mansion and a yacht and then just dumping all these people—along with a very high number of unnamed, topless women who are given neither personalities nor lines—in front of some cameras and just seeing what happens. Like Korine's equally insane Spring Breakers, The Beach Bum looks simultaneously gorgeous and garish—all radioactive sunsets, fluorescent clothes, and light shimmering along waves and guns and bongs—and also like Spring Breakers, big chunks of the movie are basically music videos. Naturally, there are Snoop songs, and Jimmy Buffett songs (do Snoop and Jimmy sing a song together? of course they do), but there’s also the Cure, and Van Morrison, and Gordon Lightfoot. Moondog jams and slurs and mumbles poetry and relaxes in a bunch of boats, and he rounds up a slew of homeless buddies for an impromptu pool party, and at some point he may or may not win a Pulitzer. Zac Efron has a beard that looks like this—
—and the movie somehow feels both longer and shorter than its 95 minutes. This, my friends, is Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum, and I’m pretty sure that by the time you finished reading the first paragraph of this review, you had already decided if you were going to see it, and you had already decided if you were going to love it.