MIFF ’19 – The Beach Bum (2019)

There’s a kind of charming pointlessness to Harmony Korine’s latest effort The Beach Bum. One of the more harmless entries in Korine’s body of work, the Florida-set, sun kissed gorgeousness is a sort of Kontiki tour for you, the viewer. You get to play in the grime, feel the sweat, smell the weed, and still escape with your brain intact and your dignity unbroken. It’s a hyper saturated, hedonistic technicoloured dreamscape with a lead actor who is going all in on on his performance to the point that one might argue that Moondog is an extension of the man that is Matthew McConaughey.

The Beach Bum follows Florida oddity, Moondog (McConaughey), a mainstay of the region and almost a legend among the population. Every tourist destination has a Moondog, the type of individual the locals often say “Oh, that’s just x, they’re harmless”. A kind of drunken concoction of Jack Sparrow and Hunter S. Thompson with enough ketamine to jump start even the most stubborn of economies, Moondog spends his days making his presence known among the locals, drinking himself into a happy stupor, cavorting with a lady or three and, most importantly, writing poetry. While a bit of a nuisance, Moondog is regarded as a genius when it comes to his writing, essentially giving him a free pass to do whatever he likes. A frustration to his manager (Jonah Hill doing his best Truman Capote by way of Boss Hogg), and the sparkle in the eyes of his daughter Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen) and wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), Moondog basically has it made. That is until tragedy strikes and the movie offers up some unexpected yet welcome morsels of sentimentality and heart.

Despite some of its more heavier elements, The Beach Bum is escapism through and through. Much like The Dead Don’t Die, you’ll have a far better time just giving yourself to the escapades and high pitched giggles of Moondog. Doing so allows his charm to wash over you like a gentle beach wave. A character that could have been disgustingly obnoxious, McConaughey imbues the blonde oaf with a gentleness and thirst for life that makes him wildly endearing. The genius of the performance and direction is that you never really end up questioning why those around Moondog allow him to get away with all that he does. You just get it. There’s a real joy in watching him interact with the more colourful characters, including a scene chomping Zac Efron, a Creed loving, flared jeans wearing, vaping little arsonist who ends up being but one of many of Moondog’s enablers along his journey. The cherry on top is John Debney’s score that adds a kind of Disney tint to the whole endeavour. You’d swear you were watching a spin-off to Snow White as our protagonist leads a group of homeless men to tear up a mansion as if they were the seven dwarves.

While not to everyone’s tastes (what movie is, though?), The Beach Bum has the spirit and energy of a drunken night out with your friends, when no one in your group is ready to go home and the thought of kicking on until sunrise energises you further. All the joys of chemical hedonism without the drawbacks of a hangover or brain damage.

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