Directed by Harmony Korine
Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) bums around the Florida keys, writing poetry infused into his brain by a lifestyle lived through his loins and out of his mind. He’s drunk and/or high all the time and never experiences a hangover, at least none that we ever see. He’s full of pithy wisdom, a jovial spirit and somewhere along the way he learned how to dance and never stopped. Moondog is a spirit who doesn’t seem to need anything to live his best life but who just so happens to have everything, which helps make it possible. He’s a bleary-eyed enigma, wrapped in a swirl of pot smoke and backlit by the neon signs of a locale that seems alternately heavenly and tacky. For him it’s home, maybe even more than that. Moondog looks like the place he’s from, as if it’s unclear whether he’s a creation of the sunny beaches (where we never see it rain) or whether he has manifested it himself.
The Beach Bum is full of many a memorable character, all who enter Moondog’s orbit on his unexpected journey like that of The Odyssey. There is the hint of a plot here but never really any substantial conflict. Whether it’s the police, sharks, the man sleeping with his wife or the confines of a court-mandated stint in rehab, Moondog never reacts with anything other than joy or pleasant surprise. The world is a delight.
At the same time some real sh*t goes down within this movie. Here and there are subtle moments which might make us look critically at Moondog were it not for the subjective perspective of the film which immerses us so deeply into the way he sees the world. Then those events begin to expand and grow more severe, and yet the film never loses track of its spiritual hero. The world could be on fire (and in some ways it is) and he would never know (song lyric).
This is a pretty outrageous, memorable film and one of the best of the short year so far that I’ve seen. Regardless of it’s point of view, crudeness or otherwise (this is a Harmony Korine film after all), The Beach Bum is unmistakably its own thing. It flows with its own rhythm, yielding a sort of contact high to the audience. Many sequences are intercut so that we cycle through time as if it’s no longer a linear concept (plenty to talk about there), and moments flow one into the other sometimes without any clear motivation. We just bounce through life on the gust of some kind of cosmic breeze.
To help aid that there is music underneath almost every second of the film, at least that I can recall, a tropical blend of music composed for the film as well as recognizable tracks by Jimmy Buffet (playing himself in the movie) and Snoop Dogg (playing a version of himself). These are images and sounds which don’t seem to make for obvious companions, but in this film it all blurs together the way it might were you to concoct an ill-advised drug cocktail.
Put it all together and this is poetic debauchery, with vivid characters, beautiful cinematography which seems almost drunk in its own appealing way. The movie combines the easy going nature of a Richard Linklater film (thinking mostly of 2016’s Everybody Wants Some!! in it’s conflict-free narrative) with the seedy world of a crime novel and the sometimes tropical, sometimes absurdly glamorous Miami locations of an MTV show.
There is nothing quite like The Beach Bum, perhaps more of a broad comedy than it at first seems, but with a poetic rhythm underneath, complete with moments that can be both wholesome and loving as well as violent and without reason.
Up Next: Selma (2014), Dumbo (2019), In Cold Blood (1967)