The Beach Bum

The Beach Bum ★★★★★

Watched for the November 2019 movie scavenger hunt
3) Watch a film that features music from one of my top 3 British bands: The Cure, The Smiths, Radiohead

2019 movie viewings, #104. Yet another gloriously delightful trainwreck from super-duper-indie director Harmony Korine, fresh on the heels of his deceptively smart and politically aware Spring Breakers (see my review). Like that one, Korine brilliantly uses Gaspar Noe's usual cinematographer Benoît Debie to deliver a visually shimmering movie that makes it feel weightier than its almost non-existent storyline would usually indicate, in this case a portrait of a hippie poet named "Moondog" who got his start as a cultishly loved performance artist in the "poetry slam" days of the 1990s (as cleverly shown through VHS flashbacks), but 25 years later has devolved into one of those cartoon characters you see on the edges of the tourist districts of cities like New Orleans and Key West, beloved by the locals precisely for being a perpetual fuck-up who has miraculously seemed to not only survive but thrive despite the lack of a job, possessions, or periods of sobriety that last longer than ten minutes. Married to a Miami sugar mommy, always outrageously dressed in garments that are less clothes and more costumes, and hangout buddies with people like Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Buffett, our tale is mostly just a look at some of Moondog's random adventures, during a period of his life when his wife has died but has withheld his inheritance until he finally finishes his latest book of poetry, even while the police are insisting on him sobering up as part of a plea deal after drunkenly crashing his wife's six-figure sports car.

The big surprise here, though, is that despite this movie's reputation, Korine actually has a serious point to make, turning Moondog into a blue-collar hero and passionately arguing that all of us could use a little more laid-back fucked-upness in our uptight, polarized lives these days. A lot of the success of that persuasion boils down to a deceptively genius performance by Matthew McConaughey, here channeling his character Wooderson from Dazed and Confused and imagining what that guy might have ended up like forty years later, if he had moved to Florida and remained high pretty much the entire time. Moondog's the kind of guy you're a bit horrified by, yet still compelled to want to spend an evening partying with, exactly the kind of genial yet slightly malignant waste case who I'm always seeming to meet in the dive bars of the French Quarter whenever I go visit my brother in New Orleans; and Korine pretty convincingly argues that these kinds of dudes are oh so necessary for the continued success of our society, in that they remind the rest of us to not take life that seriously, and that if you'll simply chill out the universe will somehow manage to find a way to survive. You'll be frustrated if you try to approach this movie in any other way; but if you can get into the "relax and have a margarita" vibe of it all, The Beach Bum has a surprising amount of smart things to say about 21st century society and the constrictive way most of us are living it. It comes strongly recommended in this spirit, another big winner from a director with a whole lot of head-scratching and sometimes just plain disgusting clunkers in his oeuvre. Here's hoping that this 1-2 punch marks a new phase in his career, and that his Julien Donkey-Boy days are behind him.

Block or Report

Jason Pettus liked these reviews