Published Mar 29, 2019An integral piece in the hip underground of the '90s and 2000s, the inimitable Harmony Korine has had a whirlwind career that's included everything from revered indie art house fare to downright trolling. In 2012, he tied elements of his entire career together with Spring Breakers, a cult classic that further blurred lines of pop culture and, among other things, helped launch the A24 studio into the trusted brand it is today. With his followup The Beach Bum, however, the auteur appears to be setting his filmography on fire once again.
There are no two ways about it — The Beach Bum is an aggressively stupid movie. Matthew McConaughey does an extremely exaggerated Matthew McConaughey impression as Moondog, a cartoonishly laidback substance abuser who spends his days retreating to his own version of Margaritaville in the Florida Keys. Oh yeah, he's also a revered poet, whose agent (Jonah Hill, offering a hilarious and absurd Southern drawl) is breathing down his neck for a new collection of poems.
There's no plot, really, but there are other plot points — Isla Fischer plays Minnie, Moondog's extremely wealthy wife. Despite his constant philandering, he's still kinda bummed out when he discovers Minnie has been having an affair with Lingerie (often called by the nickname Ray, and really just Snoop Dogg playing himself). Then, when Minnie dies, her fortune is unavailable to Moondog until he completes his next book of poetries.
On paper, it sounds like a cohesive story, but it's really just an excuse for Moondog to move from set piece to set piece, meeting absurd, larger-than-life characters along the way. (Zac Efron's JNCO-adorned, Christian nu-metal loving Flicker, and Martin Lawrence's dolphin-obsessed Captain Wack, are just some of the colourful crew.) It's undeniably stupid, but it's nearly impossible to not be charmed while strapping in for the adventure.
In interviews, Korine has said he was aiming for a Cheech & Chong feel. He's certainly achieved this, perhaps too well for some — watching the film certainly feels like you're sitting through a brain-cell-destroying, half-written stoner romp rather than the idealized "comedy legends" Cheech & Chong are revered as in retrospect. It's a similar, stupid-fun tone to a long-lost Pauly Shore movie, a mid-era Adam Sandler romp or a more spiritual Freddy Got Fingered. (The jubilantly silly score and Norbit-esque typography make this motive clear.)
As a result, Korine has produced his most mainstream work to date. In doing so, however, he's reached a new level of subversion. After all, an art-house darling making a goofy, often idiotic comedy with a flurry of mainstream actors is a sure-fire way to piss off the normies. Not to mention, if we strain hard enough, we can still ascribe some philosophical meaning to Moondog's hedonistic bliss.