SXSW Review: Get More of Harmony Korine with ‘The Beach Bum’

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Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is a cult fav’ among film goers. One half exclaims brilliance while the other half detests it, but regardless of what you think of his work, Korine’s style and flare is undeniable. Bombastic, absurdism is the name of the game, and his films are more or less mood pieces rather than your traditional narrative films. His latest film, The Beach Bum, is more of that, and you can tell right from the get-go that Korine’s signature trademarks are all over it.

Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) is our titular character who drifts along the Florida coast as a washed up poet doing anything and everything. Living off his wife’s (Isla Fisher) money, he galavants from beach to beach, smoking weed, drinking PBRs, and living without a care in the world as he struggles to channel his prior successes.

For narrative purposes, it seemingly doesn’t matter to the point of the film. The synopsis I gave you exists simply as a vehicle for the crazy sh*t Moondog. Each scene is a non sequitur from the prior, and it plays out like a series of sketches where absurdist comedy runs rampant. Smuggling weed out of your friend’s house with a blind airplane pilot. You bet. Swimming with sharks that you mistake for dolphins that take your foot. Why not? Cheating on your wife in the back of sleazy burger bar minutes before your daughter gets married. Sure thing. It’s all incredibly insane, off the wall, and par for the course for someone like Harmony Korine. 

It may be hard to believe but this film tones back the overt stylings of Spring Breakers. This one is just in it for the vibes, which may totally be your thing, but the film is one giant joke about itself and a responsive Xanax to the state of discourse in the country. There’s one scene in particular which I won’t spoil here, but just know that when Moondog reads his final poem, the film has reached it’s long running punchline and given its last eff’ to give (in a semi-good way).

The cast is wild. I already mentioned McConaughey as the eccentric and sun-crisped Moondog, and Fisher as the semi-faithful wife Minnie, but there is a slew of others in here as well with their own zany characters. You have Jonah Hill as playing Moondog’s manager. Snoop Dogg as Moondog’s supplier and closest confidant. Martin Lawrence as a fish boat captain. Zac Efron as an accomplice in Moondog’s escape from an AA retreat. And Jimmy Buffet as himself. Everyone is playing a caricature in this film. Not a relatable character, an off the wall, kooky caricature, and they’re all having a great time doing it. They each get their own segments to shine in, and their disparate, random connectivity feeds into the fluid, carefree nature of the film.  

You may be thinking at this point, “This sounds like a fun ass time.” And to that I would say, “Yah, if you’re into Harmony Korine.” Like I said, this film is one giant joke for an hour and half, and by the hour mark it really grades on you. Or at least me. I’m indifferent to Korine; I admire his audacity in some moments and other times times I can’t believe someone thought this was a good creative decision, but that’s kinda what makes his films his films. Those who have seen his prior work and enjoyed it will surely feel the same about The Beach Bum, but at the same time, I don’t think this will do anything to change the minds of those who already have baggage with Korine.

Also in a totally random note that somewhat ties into the absurdism of this film, before we entered the film, we were given scratch and sniff cards to use whenever weed played an important part in the film. You know, like those scratch and sniff cards you got from Burger King for The Rugrats Go Wild movie? We got those, and it was as pungent as you would expect.