SXSW Review: ‘THE BEACH BUM’ takes Florida-weird to a charming, unsettling place

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James C. Clay//Film Critic

THE BEACH BUM

Rated R, 95 minutes.
Director: Harmony Korine
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron, Stefania LaVie Owen, Martin Lawrence

Stepping into the orbit of filmmaker Harmony Korine may not be a welcoming task for many filmgoers, but those willing to take a dive into the depravity of his brand of hedonistic trash will find comfort in the sea of faces, and places he brings to the screen. His films tend to celebrate those living on the margins by depicting the geographic settings with a touch of judgment, a lot of amusement and a penchant to offend. His first film since SPRING BREAKERS, THE BEACH BUM is a celebration of searching for and living in the moment. And who better to recruit for this oddity than Matthew McConaughey, who walks more than a mile in the shoes of an existential poet named Moondog aiming to transcend the mystique of the bohemian lifestyle.

THE BEACH BUM is often funny and perplexing, a blissful movie-going experience soundtracked by some of your favorite yacht rock tunes from Gerry Rafferty, Gordon Lightfoot and the parrot king himself Jimmy Buffet (who makes a cameo in the film). Korine brings you into his orbit with a welcoming hand that will disgust some, and excite others. For me this film was just relaxing. It’s nice to have a film with such little consequences and concern for time and logic.

Feelings of relaxation are good and all, but what is THE BEACH BUM even about? It follows the life and times of a mythical figure named Moondog (McConaughey), who we meet living the good life drinking booze by the cabana, sleeping around and smoking weed. He has a righteous mullet, shirts with flames on them, and the classic white socks with white sneakers look that has made Walmart shoppers happy for decades now. There’s not much context given to his Key West, Florida lifestyle other than he’s a writer of beautiful poems that move people. He’s not interested in claiming the role of a cult-like leader, but those who follow Moondog’s book of poems entitled “Key Zest” would easily follow him to the Arctic and back. What you wouldn’t expect is that Moondog is filthy rich — well his wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), is the one with all the money and the power. They each sleep around while entering and exiting from each other’s lives, but her relationship with Moondog’s friend Lingerie (Snoop Dogg) could harsh their mellow union. Despite the problematic nature of Korine’s film Korine does not outright endorse the objectifying behaviors. This brand of hedonism is disgusting and gross and would easily make for a good session of sensationalized reality television, but under the umbrella of Korine it becomes a relaxing hang session that exists outside beyond construct of time.

Moondog is treated as a timeless, mythical figure who could make an impact on any setting he is in, and while this is ridiculous to those not under the influence of “greener substances,” he believes it and so do his followers. Many famous faces appear for Moondog’s spiritual journey and it’s as if Korine is asking his audience to be prepared to accept a moment and find joy even when we least expect it. Not everything is laid out with intention, just like in life.  Actors such as Zac Efron pop in for an interlude where he blares Christian rock band Creed, chucks clouds out of a vape pen, wears Jnco jeans and then just disappears from the movie without warning. However, Martin Lawrence is the co-starring MVP as a captain of a janky dolphin excursion boat who briefly goes into business with the intrepid leader Moondog.

Photographed in Florida, THE BEACH BUM has a handle on what makes this place such a macabre paradise. While Korine’s cinematographer Benoit Debie (ENTER THE VOID) captures the painted skies with deep lighting and sepia tones that will make you cry, Korine fills the frames with odd faces and personalities that only he can capture. Florida is a mesmerizing place and given his past two films Korine is the patron saint of uncovering the weirdness.

THE BEACH BUM is an inviting piece of filmmaking that will have you either opening your arms for a hug or slamming the door in the face of Moondog and Korine. Either way, McConaughey brings his charm to the role existing in the head of this madhouse director; and at least tempting us to go down the path of enlightenment.

Final Grade: A-

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