Are we witnessing the end of the McConaissance? If The Beach Bum is any indication then we might be. Writer/director Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers) has dragged Matthew McConaughey’s through a round of Korine’s favourite topic; sex, drugs, and … well, that’s about it. To be fair, a loose, wise-cracking “bum” who lives by his own rules is just the kind of role McConaughey was destined to play and, unsurprisingly, he is by far the best thing about this film.
A tale of hedonism and misbehaviour, The Beach Bum is big on style and small on plot. Moondog (McConaughey) is a celebrated but burnt-out poet living in the sun-drenched environs of the Florida Keys. Rich, popular, and hell-bent on living out the rest of his life within the drug-addled haze of his kitsch hovel. The only catch; his estranged wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), holds the purse strings and tasks him with finishing his next book in order to access the remainder of his wealth. That’s about as far as the plot complexities go, the film opting instead to stumble through a potpourri of episodic (but colourful) scenes. A conveyor-belt of big names roll past; Zac Efron, Jonah Hill, Snoop Dogg, and Martin Lawrence, among others, line up to have a holiday in Florida’s sun at the studio’s expense, or have a crack at ruining their careers … or both, hard to tell.
It’s not all bad. There are some interesting formal flourishes, Korine’s woozy style plays cute with some unconventional editing, with single conversations playing out seamlessly across multiple scenes. It’s clever stuff, but deft editing and attractive cinematography can only go so far.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to admire a film that, while not outright glorifying abhorrent self-indulgence, does nothing to vilify it either. In one scene Jonah Hill seems to sum up the film’s moral compass “You know what I like the most about being rich? You can just be horrible to people and they just have to take it.” The glass-half-full in me says that Korine is trying to be intentionally provocative. A clever subtext perhaps, a sarcastic stab at Trumpism, or some other gem of wisdom deep within its hazy bowels … I just found this film too annoying and obnoxious to care.