It’s been nearly seven years since director Harmony Korine unleashed Spring Breakers on the world. While that movie remains divisive as ever in a love/hate sort of way, many have been eagerly awaiting his follow-up, especially once they found out it was going to involve Matthew McConaughey playing a burnout stoner who hangs out with Snoop Dogg. That follow-up is finally here and it’s called The Beach Bum, which, in addition to being many other things, is perhaps the ultimate stoner comedy for the modern age.
The Beach Bum works with a deceptively simple premise. Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) is a once-great poet who lives a carefree life of leisure with his beautiful, rich wife, big house, cool cars and access to any and all of life’s many pleasures at his fingertips. Moondog has been coasting by until something happens that forces him to reevaluate his situation. This leads him on a journey where he crosses paths with a variety of different characters who learn from the Moondog experience. This blissful writer, even in the face of tragedy, must find his way back to grace in more ways than one.
This is definitively a movie made by Harmony Korine, even though it’s decidedly very different from his previous work. For those who maybe didn’t see Spring Breakers, it’s got his signature punk rock, loose-feeling approach, with a layer of brightness and hyperrealism pasted over the whole thing. In this case, that casing is surrounding a stoner comedy that follows a brilliant man who leads a hideously unhealthy lifestyle and is enabled by those around him because he’s likable, caring and, at times, a genius.
Often times when looking at a figure like Moondog in the confines of a movie, there is a lesson to be learned. Some form of tragedy about the man that could be who is trapped by is own bad habits. In this case, while tragedy certainly has its place in the larger story, Moondog really does manage to maintain his blissful nature and escapes the consequences of his actions, for the most part. In that way, it’s quite possible he could become a terrible role model for a new generation of certain individuals who maybe like weed and partying just a bit too much.
That’s not a knock. Frankly, it makes the comedy and the heart this movie has to offer all the more effective. It’s just that Harmony Korine chose not to make this a dreary, cautionary tale. Instead, he made a funny movie for the purposes of escapism that maintains his integrity as an artist. Plain and simple.
The cast is rounded up by Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence and yes, Jimmy Buffett, who all have their small parts to play in Moondog’s life. But really, this is Matthew McConaughey’s show. It’s so easy to forget just how uninteresting this man’s career was 10 years ago. Then he had one of the most incredible resurgences and reinventions in recent memory, with amazing turns in projects like True Detective, Mud and Dallas Buyers Club. Yet, here, he plays a man who feels like the sketch comedy version of McConaughey brought to life, heightened, and let off the chain. For better or for worse (and I’d argue for the better), it’s the role he was born to play. Silly as it may be at times, it’s a brave, surprisingly layered and complex part that literally only he could play.
It may be a truly trite thing to say that this movie isn’t for everyone, but it isn’t. The absurdist humor and looseness may be off-putting to some viewers. And that’s fine, just know that going in. But for those who can hang in there, this is ultimately more than a one-note schtick that drags out for 90 minutes. It’s a hilarious and touching lesson in the beauty of irresponsibility (from a certain point of view) and living one’s life to the fullest. Neon is set to release The Beach Bum in theaters on March 29.