The Beach Bum
Directed by Harmony Korine
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Isla Fisher, Zac Efron, Snoop Dogg
Rated R for pervasive drug and alcohol use, language throughout, nudity and some strong sexual content.
1 hr. 35 min.
It’s a role Matthew McConaughey was born for: a perpetually buzzed, brilliant but burned-out poet named Moondog, belching bromides between spliffs and cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. So many of his on-screen personae have been versions of the surf-and-sand slacker, stripped to the waist, barefoot and bearded, living in a post-beatnik orb in a relentless haze of tippling and toking. Moondog is Lawrence Ferlinghetti in Margaritaville. A true debauchee, a public reliever of his bladder. Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s Spicoli in middle age. No one but McConaughey could play The Beach Bum, and enjoy it so much.
It won’t appeal to everyone. At a matinee, the weekend it opened, I saw a woman and her elderly mother get a load of Moondog on a yacht, brewed-up and high as a kite, in the middle of a centipede-like situation with two naked beach babes. They made haste to the exit. The Beach Bum is a funny ride, but not everybody’s cup of (spiked) tea.
Writer-director Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers) has again created a sensory jaunt through Miami and the Florida Keys. (What will happen to the stoner class when global warming puts south Florida under 10 feet of water?) It’s a sodden trip through the wealthy, carefree life of Moondog. He’s perpetually baked, while his wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), is having an affair with his best friend, the rapper Lingerie or “Ray,” played by Snoop Dogg, an authentic connoisseur of cannabis in real life.
McConaughey’s Moondog is blond and scraggy, in barely-buttoned shirts, shorts, sneakers and fanny pack, tapping out poetry on an old-school, portable typewriter, periodically accompanied by untethered young women. Talented but clueless (“I’m a bottom feeder — I gotta go low to get high!”) he handles responsibility with the aplomb of a drunken baby. His southern-fried literary agent (Jonah Hill, slimmed to the point you won’t recognize him) wants work out of him that’s just not happening. He arrives late to the wedding of his daughter, Heather (Stephanie LaVie Owen), and her dull-as-biscuit-dough groom (Joshua Ritter) in just one scene that’s as outrageously funny as it is a cringe-worthy embarrassment.
Of course, as is always the case, no human, even a fictional creation, can sustain such an inebriated, wastrel lifestyle without crossing a Rubicon of sorts. There emerges a danger to his existence. Moondog soon learns he has to finish a book of his works to stay wealthy and free as a breeze. But the partying just gets harder.
While attempting to mend his ways, Moondog meets Flicker (Zac Efron), a truly dizzy hedonist with manscaped sideburns; a sociopathic laugh riot. Martin Lawrence returns to film for the first time in eight years as Captain Wack, an unkempt Vietnam vet, lover of dolphins, drugs and a profane parrot. His time on screen is short but grotesquely hilarious. A yacht-board duet by Snoop’s Lingerie and Jimmy Buffet (as himself . . .who else, in Moondog’s wonderland of sunsets, cobalt-colored seas and water-bongs?) puts the movie’s whole vibe in as much perspective as the flashlight-sized joints they smoke.
Ultimately, Moondog rolls on as an unreconstituted free spirit. There’s tragedy with the comedy — the funny stuff is subversive. Beneath this carnival of indulgence is the awareness that the road to self destruction is both a flavor-filled fiesta and a bitter stew. The Beach Bum may have trouble filling seats. The beautiful Florida locations, the gaudy, adult wit, the merry decadence and the cast, however, are, without question, worth the price of a ticket.