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Review: The Beach Bum – “A sun-soaked miracle”

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You will probably hate The Beach Bum. It’s provocative, repetitive, scrawly, and unapologetically chaotic. And this reaction is exactly what writer-director Harmony Korine will be seeking. You see, the provocative Californian auteur absolutely thrives on button-pushing; relishing in the pleasure of frustrating and alienating unsuspecting audiences who think they’re merely settling in for a new Matthew McConaughey movie. Much like with his 2012 cotton-candy sensation, Spring Breakers, in which herds of naive Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens fans aimlessly wandered into a 94-minute audio-visual assault in which their beloved Disney stars swap Mickey for Molly.

Although less bracing and alarming than its aforementioned predecessor, The Beach Bum takes little time to light up and remains in a feverish state of kaleidoscopic intoxication for the entirety of its duration. And you know what, it’s all the better for it. Yes, some people are going to completely loathe this film; Korine has specifically designed it to be a polarising and divisive experience. But what an experience it is. Open your mind, heart and lungs. Inhale the endless fumes; let them fill your chest, whirlpool your brain, and bring you higher than you’ve ever been before. Because that’s precisely how the movie makes you feel; it unlocks a state of dizzying, hedonistic euphoria. This is cinema at its most joyous, tactile, and sensory.

The finite embers of a plot here burn up pretty quickly. We navigate the woozy Floridian landscape alongside McConaughey’s Moondog. He’s a burnout poet – one fortunate enough to possess a natural gift for creating beautiful works of prose, and one unfortunate enough to squander his potential by staying permanently in a state of excess. Never does he not seem to be smoking weed, snorting cocaine, or drinking gallons of alcohol. Often doing all of the above simultaneously. You’ll find him at the many sordid watering holes in the Keys; often cheating on his wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), who just happens to be a multi-millionaire for some unknown reason. Character developments like these are not explained, so you simply just have to roll with them.

Moondog’s appearance is as shaggy as his name. Scraggly locks of bleach-blonde hair are thickly matted with sea salt. Godawful Hawaiian shirts (normally with his nipples falling out) faintly cloak his weary frame. Visor flip-down sunglasses mask bulging pupils, and leathery, sun-damaged skin. As the film’s title suggests, Moondog is, by all intensive purposes, a bum. A care-free, directionless spirit whose mantra would be something along the lines of “time isn’t wasted when you’re getting wasted” (and yes, that is a lyric from Asher Roth’s “I Love College”; well done you).

When tragedy strikes, Moondog’s life is somewhat turned upside down. Suffice to say, not much gets our hapless hero down (kinda hard when you’re always up). He is forced into a position in which he must write and publish a new poetry collection, which leads him on a staggered journey across this ravishing, neon-drenched landscape that’s populated by oddball character influences. Some of these “friends” are bad, and the rest are, well, terrible. Essential Korine’s narrative development is primed for Moondog to partake in humorous and entirely random vignettes with the film’s eclectic mix of talent, which includes the likes of Snoop Dogg, Jonah Hill, Martin Lawrence and Zac Efron.

Like with Spring Breakers, aesthetics are a major focal point for Korine. This film looks utterly majestic; a glorious, radiant parade of sun, sea, and sex. The location photography is entirely transportive and makes you as a viewer feel truly part of the eccentric underbelly Moondog wallows within. Equally, the use of music beautifully characterises key sequences; often evoking more textured and surprising tones to the world of the film.

It would be very easy (and understandable) to look at The Beach Bum solely on a surface level, but dig a little deeper, and you’ll find a surprising amount of sincerity and remorse. Korine’s chef’s kiss here is just how subtly he works in shades of humanity into this desperately unsubtle picture. Sure, Moondog is hardly a redeeming character, but he’s an incredibly likeable and engaging one, despite his many flaws. In his times of sorrow and regret, there is a tenderness humming behind his loose, airy persona. He knows he has been a poor father and husband, he knows his potential is failing to be fulfilled. He knows he is capable of more than he is, and more than he gives. You might not notice these little nuggets right away – especially if your head is fixated on the juggernaut of drugs or F-Bombs – but seek and you’ll discover.

Aside from the rich cavalcade of sounds and shots, the performances are volcanic. You will choke from laughter at scenes Moondog shares with Lawerence’s dolphin tour guide, Captain Wack, and Hill’s uptight literary agent, Lewis. The chemistry froths and fizzes more than what’s cooking in Walt and Jesse’s RV. A particular sequence in which Moondog and Captain Wack take an unsuspecting (and devout Christian) family out on a boozy boat tour is among the funniest film moments of 2019.

Amazingly, Snoop Dogg is fantastic in this movie. Essentially playing an inflated version of himself, albeit an R&B sensation named Lingerie, he does everything we all think (and probably hope) the Doggfather does behind closed doors. Supported by an entourage of ageing Jamaican Rastas, Lingerie’s biggest pleasure in life is attending to his hyper-rare, ultra-violet-sensitive import cannabis plant, which he acquires annually when he puts on a special gig in the Caribbean. This weed is the “key to his success”, and he believes it will provide the antidote to Moondog’s chronic writer’s block. Put it this way: the results are exactly what you’d want from a stoner comedy.

But taking all of the above into consideration, perhaps the most impressive aspect of Korine’s flammable new film is just how elated it makes you feel. The Beach Bum is firing perfectly on all creative and sensory cylinders; painting a lush and vivid portrait which expertly brushes you onto its wheezing, candy-coloured canvas. This author can think of few alternative titles this calendar year which have been as enigmatic, enveloping, and downright entertaining as Moondog’s warped voyage. Quite frankly, Harmony Korine has crafted a sun-soaked miracle of a film, and I’m already craving another toke.

The Beach Bum is available to watch now via on-demand rental at Amazon Prime, Rakuten TV & Sky Store, courtesy of Blue Finch Film Releasing.

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