A bunch of different ideas coexist in The Beach Bum, but they never truly come together.
As a critic, who also happens to be a Harmony Korine superfan, I knew the writer/director would have that instinct to go against traditional filmmaking. The indie circuit saw this process grow in Gummo and then into Julien Donkey-Boy, while mainstream audiences got a taste for it in Korine’s 2013 polarizing Spring Breakers. Personally, I find him to be a filmmaker who is an exception to rules. This style works for him because he finds organic moments that help him establish a makeshift narrative.
In Spring Breakers, these organic moments uncovered a wannabe stud named Alien, played by James Franco, and that character was fleshed out due to Korine and Franco’s commitment. I thought a similar process would’ve happened in Korine’s The Beach Bum with Moondog, a sunkissed poet portrayed by Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey. However, with The Beach Bum, Korine skips preliminary development with McConaughey because he’s convinced that the actor can run with the character right off the hop. While McConaughey has proven himself to be a great actor, he swims against the current in The Beach Bum. And, movie goers learn quickly that a quirky character can’t be the lone foundation for a movie.
While McConaughey tries to “go with the flow”, Korine doesn’t actually have a clear idea of who exactly Moondog “is”. The lazy, hazy character frequently shifts from being a charismatic oddball to an obnoxious sociopath. His family and his equally warped Floridian pals are no help to gain perspective. They enable Moondog’s behaviour just as often as they’re annoyed by it. By playing the middle so often, the comedy in The Beach Bum comes across as frustratingly inconsistent and incoherent.
Just like the development of Moondog, The Beach Bum lunges a truckload of rushed concepts at the audience; perhaps as a result of the writer/director being too eager to make this movie. There are glimmers of potential, but they all deviate away from Moondog’s main goal to write a book in order to earn a loved one’s inheritance. Even so, these absurd side stories starring Zac Efron, Jonah Hill, Martin Lawrence, and Snoop Dogg are somewhat interesting. But, much like Moondog, the perceptions of these characters are all crooked and played for wacky effect instead of offering anything concrete. The initial motivations of these characters are amusing, but the actors are not given the chance to find their moments.
The Beach Bum is a burnt-out bust, but maybe Harmony Korine was aiming to create an unfocused experience that is the equivalent to a contact high. If that’s what he set out to do, then he overshot his goal – big time.
Read Trevor Chartrand’s review of The Beach Bum
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie