The Beach Bum does not really have a substantive story, it just follows a doped up middle-aged guy who displays no self-awareness and never faces any consequences for his actions.
McHunky McConaughey plays Moondog, a washed-up pothead poet with a Peter Pan syndrome in Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum, which first had its premiere at the SXSW festival in 2019. Coming from a director who made the terrible (there’s no better description) 2012 crime comedy Spring Breakers, I didn’t have any expectations from this one. And boy, do I love being right.
Moondog is a local icon in the scenic vacation destination of Florida Keys. He’s known less for his literary accomplishments and more for his wild escapades with almost half the town. He’s a happy-go-lucky character with stringy blonde hair and a greasy charm that everyone seems to find irresistible. In between the “wild fun” he has, he does manage to log in a few words on his typewriter. And all of his indulgences are conveniently funded by his wealthy wife Minnie (Isla Fisher). Moondog is who I imagine David Wooderson (also played by McConaughey) from Dazed and Confused grew up to be.
The Beach Bum does not have a substantive story, it just follows a doped up middle-aged guy who displays no self-awareness and never faces any consequences for his actions. Everything always works out for him. Is it his white privilege? Most likely. He’s coasting through life one day at a time, enjoying his wife’s generational wealth — I make this assumption because we are never told why Minnie is rich. For the story to continue, he is forced to reckon with a drastic change in his life.
Though The Beach Bum claims to be a stoner comedy, I hardly cracked a smile. There is nothing amusing about Moondog’s drunken/stoned shenanigans. Korine probably intended for his story to have a deep meaning to it: something along the lines of the “Live fast, die young” school of thought. In a nutshell, The Beach Bum is just about a middle-aged dude-bro, by a dude-bro, for other dude-bros.
More often than not to enjoy an absurd movie, you have to immerse yourself in the protagonist’s world and accept that the rules they follow are just different. It’s hard to do that with The Beach Bum, because it does not offer a distinct experience. It almost seems like Korine imagined the character of Moondog and subsequently built a story around his supposed quirks. There are certain sequences that make no sense and offer nothing to the plot. I could not help but cringe watching Moondog perform oral sex on Minnie as she gets a pedicure or when Moondog escapes rehab with his new pyromaniac buddy Flicker (Zac Efron). Together they topple an old man off his wheelchair to steal his money.
McConaughey is the perfect choice to play this character — whether he’s the troubled Rust Cohle in True Detective or the hauntingly handsome lead in 2000s romantic comedies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past or Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club — the man always gets the assignment right. Snoop Dogg, who is seen as Lingerie, a threadbare version of his real-self; Jonah Hill as Lewis, Moondog’s agent; Jimmy Buffet as himself; Martin Lawrence as Captain Whack, who claims to be a Vietnam War veteran bring some momentum to the otherwise insufferable film.
The film’s background score by John Debney is its other saving grace — a fresh sonic ride that pairs well with the indie-film-neon-lights aesthetic that The Beach Bum has going on for it. There’s a mix of songs from The Cure (I shall revisit them once again), and also a song ‘Moondog’ by Buffet and Uncle Snoop.
The conclusion: Why was this movie made? Why did I watch it? Is there any way I can have my time back?
The Beach Bum is streaming on MUBI India.