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SXSW: The Beach Bum

Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) goes with the flow. A free-spirited poet, Moondog spends his days drinking, getting high and gallivanting around Key West. His wife Minnie (Isla Fisher), a wealthy socialite drawn to Moondog’s nonconformity, calls Moondog back to Miami for their daughter’s wedding. When tragedy strikes, Moondog’s inheritance is at stake. He must buckle down and get his next poetry collection written and published. Will Moondog be able to stop partying enough to finally write his next masterpiece?

As we follow him on his journey, we meet the motley crew of characters who inhabit Moondog’s world. There’s Lingerie (Snoop Dogg) the tycoon who lives large and has an affair with Moondog’s wife Minnie. Moondog and Lingerie party with their buddy Jimmy Buffett. In rehab Moondog meets Flicker (Zac Efron), a hip partier with a penchant for vaping and beard shaved to look like tiger stripes. Out of rehab, Moondog gets a job with his friend Captain Wack (Martin Lawrence), who takes families out on dolphin tours and makes one rather unfortunate mistake. Moondog’s literary agent Lewis (Jonah Hill) seems to be just as happy to talk business as he is partying. The most sensible person in Moondog’s world is his daughter Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen) who is seemingly straight-laced but still embraces her parents’ eccentric personalities.

Director Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum is one wild ride. Several film critics complained that the film meanders but in my opinion that’s one of the strengths. Korine allows the viewer to settle in for a while and live and breathe with the characters. The adventures of Moondog and his cohorts had me laughing and scratching my head. Korine’s brand of weird not be for everyone but I dug it. The story is a big “f*ck you” to conformity, culture and social norms. I live for Korine’s slow motion sequences and this film features a hilarious one starring Moondog and group of vagabonds (whom he literally just met hours earlier) breaking into his wife’s locked up mansion and causing utter chaos.

Moondog fits McConaughey like a well-worn glove. Jonah Hill seems to have modeled his performance after Truman Capote. I wish there was more time with Snoop Dogg, Martin Lawrence and Zac Efron’s characters. For you Parrotheads out there, Jimmy Buffett has a small role playing himself. I absolutely loved Isla Fisher’s character Minnie, perhaps my favorite in the film, but I wish her story line had taken a different turn than it did. Alas.

It’s important to note the representations of sexuality in this film. The women used as ornamental sex objects, specifically in a scene when McConaughey, Buffett and Snoop Dogg are partying on a boat, is outdated and sexist. This might have worked for a rap video ten years ago but doesn’t work today. I can’t tell if Korine is poking fun at this or if this is part of the hedonistic lifestyle. On the flip side, it was interesting to see a scene between Isla Fisher and McConaughey where the female protagonist is receiving oral pleasure. A rarity especially in American cinema.

As someone who works in book publishing, I found the story line of Moondog’s poetry career weak at best. It gives the film some semblance of a plot but you have to suspend your disbelief that Moondog is actually a genius who can win top literary awards for his work. I wasn’t buying it.

The Beach Bum is not as good as Korine’s Mister Lonely, which is still my favorite, or the more comparable Spring Breakers, but is enjoyable fare if you’re on board. And you have to be on board for this ride.

The Beach Bum had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as a headliner. It releases in theaters on March 29th.

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