Harmony Korine. Depending on who you ask, that name will either bring up admiration or disgust. Ever since breaking out with the one-two punch of Kids and Gummo (writing on the first one and directing-writing the later), the enfant terrible has equally shocked and delighted festival audiences, and even briefly managed to break out into the mainstream with Spring Breakers, which received the best reviews of his career and generated over $30 million at the box office. For a Korine film, that’s blockbuster numbers.
Six years have passed since the release of that bizarre James Franco-starring film, and the world has changed significantly. Korine’s latest offering to the world, The Beach Bum, notices that and gives audiences something to laugh at. As a matter of fact, this is Korine’s first outright comedy. A total swerve from the dark, pessimistic worlds of Mister Lonely and Trash Humpers, The Beach Bum focuses on the misadventures of Moondog (Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey), a brilliant poet with a love of life; a life that involves copious amounts of alcohol and marijuana. Despite bumming it in the Florida Keys, he retains the freedom to do whatever he wants thanks to the extreme riches of his wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher).
Moondog’s life finds him surrounded with a truly unique bunch of oddballs, including affluent rapper Lingerie (Snoop Dogg), his stressed out agent Lewis (Jonah Hill), an escaped rehab patient named Flicker (Zac Efron), and Captain Wang, an extreme lover of dolphins with a cocaine-addicted parrot (Martin Lawrence, making his return to the big screen for the first time in 9 years). All of them have distinct and memorable personalities, but they’re not the focus of the story. They come in and out at random during various points of Moondog’s constant high. No matter what happens, Moondog will be just fine; he’s always alright, alright, alright.
There’s really not much in terms of plot or story; rather the film is a series of hazy vignettes as Moondog bounces from place to place. Even when something significant happens, they barely make an impact on the viewer. For the first half hour, it’s quite exhilarating, and even blissful. Once you realize there’s another hour left to go, the energy drains out, especially in the final twenty minutes. Korine attempts to add a deeper sense of meaning through Moondog’s poetry, but at that point it’s too late. It’s ultimately shallow and meaningless.
Still, there’s plenty to like here. The cinematography (lensed by Benoît Debie, who also shot Spring Breakers) beautifully captures the world of Miami at night, and the hazy sunlight that mixes with the deep blue waters of the coastline. The soundtrack, which features Van Morrison and Bertie Higgins, moves the film along smoothly, including a new song by Snoop and Jimmy Buffet (who makes a cameo late in the film). The cast is all in, with McConaughey creating a deeply humane yet flawed presence in Moondog. The rest of the cast is stellar, making the most out of their small appearances. Efron and Lawrence practically steal the show, coming in with the energy of a tornado and leaving a hilarious trail of chaos in their wake.
The Beach Bum has all the appeal of an edible, but it won’t linger in your mind once you come down from the high. The most accessible film of Korine’s career, it’s a small success. You’ll laugh, and in times like these, we need all the laughter we can get.
The Beach Bum will open in US theaters on March 29th.