Cinematic Releases: The Beach Bum (2019) - Reviewed

Harmony Korine's first film in seven years is what I can only describe as the ultimate culmination of an artist's writer's block. Vacationist hedonism in the Florida Keys becomes the centrifugal focus behind the Spring Breakers auteur- if his latest films are meant to be reflections of the author's own life outlook, then I think I'd love some of whatever kind of thinking Korine is on right now. The Beach Bum is a healthy (or not-so-healthy, depending on how you interpret the film) dose of escapism that feels very much unlike other Harmony Korine films that I've seen before (which to be fair aren't enough to really qualify myself as an expert on the man). The little bit of Spring Breakers that I saw the first time was an absolute unabashed celebration of debauchery- its opening a montage of open tops, booze, and the typical headache-inducing dubstep tunes that one would expect the younger people of this generation to lose themselves to. The Beach Bum takes that hedonism to its adult years, showcasing its title character (played by a brilliant Matthew McConaughey), a carefree alcoholic who finds himself enjoying the company of Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Buffett (playing himself, literally) in a perfect trio that personifies the best of the getaway lifestyle and drug culture all wrapped in one tidy leaflet.

It's surprisingly toned down for what I had been expecting of a Harmony Korine film (mind you, this had some of the biggest joints I have ever seen), and that's a good thing. It's not as loud and obnoxious or overtly gross like his previous films had been to me, but still had that childish charm that I had expected him to carry into his latest film. McConaughey is a womanizer: despite being married himself, he spends his days on the opposite side of the Keys coast wandering the streets and interrupting musicians as they perform in a drunken stupor. He was once a famous poet; a master wordsmith, creating beautiful works of rhyme and reason that would bring a tear to anyone with a reasonable mental capacity. But those were his former years, Korine wants us to look back briefly on them with his Bum before hastily pushing him forward into his daughter's forthcoming marriage.

It's almost got a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas vibe to its story- the typewriter that Moondog carries with him almost constantly becoming a necessary chain that keeps him constantly tied to his life's work, despite drowning in his own alcoholism and mental blocks. Such is the life of a writer, at least that's what most films would have audiences believe. It's proven an effective character staple: Johnny Depp played it to perfection with Fear and Loathing and The Rum Diary (I guess)- here, Korine adds his own stylistic flair to the trope with a Floridian story that never once apologizes for its unbelievably carefree lifestyle- even after reality hits as hard as an oncoming train.

It's that dose of realism that makes The Beach Bum bearable for me. It's a fun and raucous romp while it lasts, but once the drama begins to reveal itself, things turn darker and more fascinating by the minute. It's not a drastic turn- McConaughey's character could have been drunk and/or high the entire time for all we know (and he probably was), and there's still that ever-so-slight sarcastic wink that Korine throws in that lets us know that he's still not going to take these films as seriously as he should, and that's a good thing. Korine represents a side of cinema that completely embraces the avant-garde, refusing to conform to the standards of reality and pushing forward in the only way it knows how. Perhaps it would have been to The Beach Bum's detriment if it had decided to thrust its tone and character back into the real world- then all the fun of its story would have been completely lost and for naught. Korine is the kind of filmmaker that people should be mentioning when they talk about films that you should turn your brain off to enjoy. That's not saying that there isn't anything that he has to say, but rather that he completely embraces the absurdity that cinema can become, and how he really is just doing exactly what he wants however he wants to do it.

-Wes Ball