Seven years after the candy-coloured nightmare ‘Spring Breakers’, long-time critic divider Harmony Korine returns to Florida for another round of beautifully shot mayhem in ‘The Beach Bum’.
Korine is well-known for exploring the grittier, less inhibited sides of society in such films as ‘Gummo’ and ‘Trash Humpers’ (which many consider to be his finest works), and ‘The Beach Bum’ is no exception. The once-great writer Moondog (Matthew McConaughey, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, ‘Magic Mike’) has adopted a daily routine of booze, drugs and aimless gallivanting (and in one hilarious moment, anonymous sex in the kitchen of a burger restaurant; I’ll never look at a metal spatula the same way again). However, when pressures are applied to his family and his finances, Moondog’s adventures start to weigh on him and it seems that his carefree, responsibility-free disposition might need to come to an end - but of course, a man like Moondog doesn’t go down without a fight, a drink and a joint.
While not as commercial as his previous film, Korine’s casting and lack of theme complexity make ‘The Beach Bum’ his most accessible work to date. A multitude of stars such as Isla Fisher (‘Now You See Me’), Snoop Lion (‘Pitch Perfect 2’) and Jonah Hill (‘Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot’) permeate every frame of this film, from small appearances to leading roles. McConaughey is an actor that I admittedly go through waves of liking, but he is as charming as ever as the talented but lazy Moondog. With a less committed leading man, ‘The Beach Bum’ would have easily come off as farcical, but McConaughey sells his performance, hysterically laughing his way to becoming one of my favourite Korine characters. While the entire cast is putting in great work (hell, even Jonah Hill leans into whatever kind of accent he is trying to do long enough that it comes off as a running punchline), I wish the film spent a little bit more time with them. Even though he is adored by his friends and family, Moondog is a lone wolf, floating along and crossing paths with characters as eccentric as he is for some mayhem, before running off to interact with someone else.
From a narrative standpoint, the film is therefore somewhat lacking, and if done better, this might not have been a bad thing. The vignette structure has been used before and to incredible effect in the rocker spectacle ‘Her Smell’, but where that film allowed the supporting characters to actually develop, ‘The Beach Bum' simply uses them as endorsers for Moondog’s ongoing antics. I was incredibly excited to see what Korine would do with Disney alum Zac Efron (‘Baywatch’, ‘Bad Neighbours 2’), but sadly he is relegated to a short vignette involving rehab and some very twisted interpretations of the Bible, never to be seen again. Efron is arguably the most interesting of the film's supporting characters, infusing as much charisma as he can into his limited screen time (his character’s getup of bleached hair, tattoos and super-wide jeans is also one of the best moments in the film). There is a divide between breakneck plot progression and splendid but aimless sequences that simply revel in the lifestyle Moondog so obviously loves, and sacrificing minutes of either of these in favour of the other would have worked wonders. Choosing which one to cull, of course, would depend on the type of film you want ‘The Beach Bum’ to be, and the film itself feels much more to favour the latter. Curiously, the more plot-driven gear switch in the second half also occurs in ‘Spring Breakers’, to that film’s detriment as well.
An incredibly enjoyable exercise in escapism, love and the pleasures life can bring.
Having the supremely talented Benoit Debie (‘Enter the Void’, Korine’s own ‘Spring Breakers’) back on board as cinematographer means that audiences are in for a visual spectacle. The saturation and bright colours heighten the hedonism of Moondog’s vagabond lifestyle. From an aesthetic standpoint, this film is as about as perfect as it could get - from the production design to the costuming to Moondog’s soon-to-be-iconic eyewear. The use of music is also impeccable, and after working with the likes of The Black Keys and Rhianna, I’d love to see Korine capitalise on his talent for aesthetic and veer back into directing music videos soon.
While the film won’t reveal any new revelatory outlooks on life or leave you feeling like you just witnessed a game-changing piece of cinema, ‘The Beach Bum’ is an incredibly enjoyable 95-minute exercise in escapism, love, and the unprecedented pleasures life can bring. It's the film equivalent of holding a beer in one hand and drunkenly throwing up a peace sign with the other, beaming brightly as you take a picture with your closest, drunkest friends for a moment you’ll never remember on a night you’ll never forget.