SUFF 2019 Review: The Beach Bum

The Beach Bum is a hazy, meandering portrait of bohemian hedonism

Sometimes, when a film explores the most indulgent excesses of life, we are reminded that the things we desire most in life are not as lustrous as we often think. The Beach Bum is definitely one of those films.

The film’s central character, Moondog, is the pinnacle of excess, representing an extreme exaggeration of what could be said to be Floridian culture – booze, weed, sex, more weed, and a rich wife to top it off. For some, this might represent a hedonistic nirvana, though at no  point in the film did I long to have his lifestyle – in fact, if faced with the option, I’d probably run the other way.. But somehow through the neon lighting, penis poems, and endless puffing, The Beach Bum sketches a narrative reflecting irreverence and everything the word carefree could and should mean.

Matthew McConaughey plays Moondog, a washed-up poet that we rarely see sober, endeavouring to finish his book in a valiant quest to unfreeze his rich dead wife’s bank account and receive a gargantuan inheritance. To be honest though, it was only upon reflecting on what actually happened in the movie that I could even come to the conclusion that this is what actually ‘happened’. Director and writer Harmony Korine, known for his anti-Disney star film, Spring Breakers, drowns viewers in a cloud of marijuana as we’re introduced to Moondog his poems: sleazy, and his lifestyle: sleazier. Although meant to be loveable, I couldn’t help but notice the lousiness that exuded from his character – though undoubtedly still a sensational performance from McConaughey as the ‘artsy stoner’.

Upon first viewing, it took a lot out of me to empathise with Moondog’s character. Probably something about the permanent cloud of smoke, the screwing around, and the dazed smile he seemed to have permanently plastered to his face. However, the more I saw it, the more I learned to love seeing him dancing around with his little white kitten, bong in hand, nestled in his speedboat. Returning from international waters to the Miami mainland to attend his daughter’s wedding, Moondog’s adventure seems to continue floating by, even upon the death of his wife Minnie (played by the inimitable Isla Fisher), whereby upon the request of his daughter – and to the joy of his agent – he must complete his newest collection of poetry. By the end of all the antics occupying the rest of the film, it almost felt like a happy coincidence that Moondog finished the book at all.

Most worthy of mention in this film is the unbelievable cast – McConaughey’s stoner surfer dude character continues to astound me, both frustratingly and endearingly. Moondog truly shines in his interactions with his agent, played by Jonah Hill with a Southern twang, and Captain Wack, by dolphin-lovin’ Martin Lawrence. It would also be a grave injustice to exclude Jimmy Buffet, Snoop Dogg, and Zac Efron’s features in this film – not at all what I was expecting, but I would watch it all over again just to take another look at Efron’s barcode-esque sideburns  that scream ‘Miami’.

The Beach Bum succeeds in creating an extremely exaggerated, disjointed and disorientating narrative experience. The film strings together various moments, dialogues and scenes, separated only by Moondog’s interactions with his friends and acquaintances, creating more of a central ‘vibe’ rather than ever really focusing on a concrete objective. In fact, as the audience, we’re probably just as distracted from writing the crucial book as he is. The film’s editing is to be credited for the comedic moments it induces, cutting briefly and quickly from scenes – notably when Martin Lawrence loses his foot swimming with dolphins (*cough* shark *cough*) – cutting to Moondog handing him back his foot while bidding him farewell.

The story lilts and sways at times, never truly finding a perfect pace and often making me question where the meandering plotline was going. That said, its final quarter is thankfully the most drive the narrative ever has, with Moondog taking on an almost Messianic role in finishing the poems he’d seemingly been working on forever, finally delivering them to his agent. Without truly having an overarching moral or message, The Beach Bum seems to sit in a state of limbo; cruising in and out of the plot and never answering the ‘whys’ of Moondog’s indulgent and free-spirited lifestyle, even far enough to not care about his wife’s affair with his best friend. Carefully treading the line of love and tolerance, The Beach Bum encourages viewers to escape, sit back and enjoy the luminescence and leisure.