THE BEACH BUM (2019, Harmony Korine)
As close to a standard entry as you’ll get into a genre like stoner comedy from Korine — which is to say not standard at all. First of all, his name is Harmony, and he writes by retreating to a houseboat in Key Largo with nothing but Taco Bell, Mountain Dew, and Cuban cigars, ODing on all of them until he gets in the zone and pumps out a fever-dream script like this. Secondly, if you’ve seen his stuff before, you won’t be surprised that this particular LEBOWSKI riff contains lots of nudity, drugs, and booze; a surprising death; a more surprising amputation; and makes this all just part of the wallpaper. For the vast majority of audiences for whom this isn’t their thing, they’re going to despise it. But I admire Korine’s commitment to this tone, and color me entertained to boot.
There’s a plot, but this is far more of a simple character study than anything. Hardly a scene goes by that doesn’t exist to further develop and observe Moondog, played to dizzying excess by McConaughey in a role he was born for — this is the most McConaughey that’s ever been McConaugheyed on screen and he laps up every last bit of scenery. But it isn’t just showy — there’s a real method to the madness. In an early wedding scene, Moondog can’t even remember his new son-in-law’s name, yet he delivers a surprisingly poetic toast. Korine wants to make sure you know that what matters to Moondog isn’t the details or even the here and now: it’s the art beyond, and the hedonistic pleasures within. He later descends fully dressed into a pool, but makes sure to keep his joint above water. This is a guy who prizes what he prizes — he can dunk himself to near drowning, he can crash a car, and he can literally and figuratively burn money… but he keeps his weed alive, he always smiles at his wife, and he knows how to write a damn poem.
There’s a limit to how much you can wring out of this. It isn’t Homer or even Keats. Moondog likes to talk about living to have fun, and keeps things calm and cool. His philosophy of sucking the marrow out of life isn’t novel, though it’s certainly fun to watch — and along with reliably neon-slick photography from Benoit Debie (fresh off CLIMAX, but reeking of SPRING BREAKERS), it’s gorgeous too. You’ve also got Zac Efron nearly stealing the entire movie with a brief turn as a Manic Pixie Dream Douchebag, the kind of guy who rocks out to Creed, has frosted hair and Venetian blind stripes shaved into his facial hair, and mugs disabled seniors. He’s good enough to make you almost forget that Jonah Hill and Martin Lawrence are also doing stellar work. But this is McConaughey’s movie, and since it spends just as much time on self-aware scenes like Moondog watching a decade-old video of himself reading poetry as it does on big plot moments, it takes a performance that’s equally self-aware, dedicated, physical, and hilarious to sell it.