Ever since his first role, as Wooderson in 1993’s Dazed and Confused, Matthew McConaughey has built a very solid career on his laid-back charm and, in recent years, his ability to show the pain behind his easy-going exterior. Now comes The Beach Bum (89 minutes without the end credits), which boils the McConaughey persona down to its bare essence. He plays a guy who just wants to have fun. Fun for him involves a lot of booze, drugs, partying and sex. That is it. There is no more to him, or the movie, than that. How much you enjoy it will depend on how much goofy, intoxicated meandering you can stand. Apparently, I can stand a lot because I was mostly amused. It may go nowhere, but it has a wild cast, some silly dialogue and is unafraid to do whatever it feels like at any given moment. It seems primed to be a cult favorite in a few years.
McConaughey’s Moondog is a happy-go-lucky jerk who wants to feel good all the time. That means beer, weed and a very open relationship with his wife, who he spends most of his time away from while partying. I would give a plot synopsis, but that is hard to do when there is no real plot to speak of. There is the vague outline of a journey of sorts, though since he does not grow or learn anything from it, I will ignore it. The entertainment value comes from the committedly ridiculous performances of the cast and the capability of writer/director Harmony Korine to look at our messed-up world and say “who cares man, let’s just have fun!”
Matthew McConaughey is in nearly every scene as the brilliant poet/hedonist at the center of The Beach Bum. It appears like he is just playing himself turned up to eleven, but it is actually pretty different from roles he has played in the past. Despite having a wife and daughter, as well as an agent waiting impatiently for his next book of poems, Moondog has absolutely no interest in responsibility. There does seem to be a lot of love inside him, for his family especially, but also for the world. This is not a sad man abusing substances to numb the pain. He is a happy guy whose fun is a commentary on the stresses of the world. He finds a delicate balance between entertaining and obnoxious. I thought he was good, however your mileage may vary.
The standout of the rest of the cast is Isla Fisher as his rich wife, Minnie. She adores Moondog even with his many flaws. Though he seems like a really difficult person to become attached to, she makes her unconditional love for him completely believable. She has her own life but, when he comes around, it is only them. They have a scene together on the beach where they dance to Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” that is as beautiful an explanation of who they are as a couple as I can possibly imagine.
Then there is Moondog’s colorful group of acquaintances. Snoop Dogg is a wealthy rapper/friend of the family who brings wisdom and a little common sense. Snoop Dogg as the relative straight-man is an odd choice, but he does fine. Jonah Hill does an exaggerated southern accent as his literary agent. Zac Efron shows up as a recovering addict who becomes a bad influence on Moondog. Martin Lawrence, in his first movie in eight years, is hilarious as a stoned dolphin tour guide named Captain Wack. Also, Jimmy Buffett pops up a few times as himself. They all contribute a bizarre series of vignettes that do not add up to much, yet they are kind of fun on their own.
If you are familiar with the work of Harmony Korine, a man who favors excess and style over plot, then combine him with this premise and this cast, you know what The Beach Bum is going to be. It is exactly what I expected and then even more of itself on top of that. If you can get in tune with its lazy, feel good despite everything that sucks, vibe, you will likely enjoy it. If the whole thing sounds pointless and dumb, stay very far away.
3½ out of 5
Matthew McConaughey as Moondog
Isla Fisher as Minnie
Stefania LaVie Owen as Heather
Snoop Dogg as Lingerie
Jonah Hill as Lewis
Martin Lawrence as Captain Wack
Zac Efron as Flicker
Jimmy Buffett as Jimmy Buffett
Written and Directed by Harmony Korine