Iconic independent filmmaker Harmony Korine has now spent three decades writing and directing feature films that explore the decadence of youth culture and even mankind as a whole . He has made many films exploring characters living in a fever dream landscape of hedonism that reaches a level of normalization and tragic confinement. Take for instance his debut directorial 1997 feature film “Gummo”, that plays out like a modern day version of Tod Browning “Freaks”, that shows a community of the nations most unfortunate scraping by in a decayed Ohio small town that has been in ruins from the aftermath of a horrible tornado. In the film Korine explored extreme poverty with a stylized and often freak show nature that was undeniably uncanny and fascinating with its own uniqueness. Korine has always been fascinated with the real merged with the absurd. Korine has always been able to mold our society’s outsiders into a heightened and stylized world that feels like an hallucinatory nightmare of fragmented and episodic structures with unforgettable characters, moments, and of course imagery.
22 years later, his stripped down 16mm, 8mm, and even VHS camera aesthetics that were used by his crew in”Gummo”, that captured the nightmarish hellhole of the characters environment is now replaced with a higher budget, A-List actors, more pleasing aesthetics, and far more hope with “The Beach Bum”. His new film still holds a unique and sensory experience that can be found in Korine’s earlier work. Korine once again crafts a film in Florida, which is our nations leading state of vacations, leisure, and even retirement. In Korine’s masterfully crafted “Spring Breakers”, he utilized the gulf landscapes of oceans and beaches to capture the moral decay of youth culture during the Obama years, where the sunshine state of vacations and paradise was turned into a dangerous place for its four female protagonists, who’s youth and pleasure-seeking was exploited by a much older man, a rapper and drug kingpin named Alien (James Franco). With the release of “The Beach Bum”, the Gulf Coast is used once again to show immoderation, but this time the lifestyle of hedonism is far less cautionary as its left far more embraced and championed.
“The Beach Bum’s” main protagonist, or rather anti-hero is Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), is somewhat like a Hunter S. Thompson, a burnout who loves to live a luxury life that lacks self-control. A revered writer and poet who spends most of time and his wife Minni’s (Isla Fisher) money on pot, alcohol, partying, and women in the Florida Keys, and he hasn’t wrote anything in years. Moondog is sophisticated and talented, and he is very laid back and passive who has lost all motivation to write again. Which leads his flamboyant literary agent Lewis (Jonah Hill) very frustrated. Jonah Hill’s character and performance here is a riot, his performance is a caricature, but it works quite well as a Floridian character that plays out like a clever mixture of Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote.
Once Moondog’s ritualistic partying and habits is disrupted after Moondog gets a call from Minni to return to Miami for their daughter Heather’s (Stefanie LaVie Owen) wedding that is quickly approaching. Moondog gets on his small row boat with a engine and coasts from the Keys back to Miami. We are introduced to Mimi, a beautiful housewife, and we see their marriage is very sensual and affectionate. Even though both are unfaithful to one another, they still respect and love each other. During the night of the wedding, Minnie and Moondog take a late night drive out together, only for Minnie to die in a horrific car accident. It is revealed in Minnie’s will that Moondog must finish his next set of poems to claim his other half of the will, something Moondog acknowledges he must do. Korine sets Moondog on a journey of artistic inspiration and self-discovery where we get interludes of an episodic structure of bizarre encounters of characters that plays out like a little Felliniesque road movie between the Keys and Miami.
The characters are misfists and degenerates in the Korine fashion, but what makes Korine such a genius is he able to turn the absurdist characters that would be caricatures in lesser films, here Korine brings great affection and adoration for his misfits. With an atmosphere of sunsets, and color pallets of neon purples, blues, and greens of Moondog living in his own gleeful world of euphoria. Often in movies the choices and habits of doing drugs, drinking alcohol, and partying is viewed as being self-destructive that reaches a level of decline and collapse, here the lifestyle is shown as an artist using these lifestyles as a higher up for his own moral compass that Woody Allen brilliantly philosophized about in “Bullets Over Broadway”. And Moondog’s encounters and re-counters reassure Moondog that many people are also living the life of the non-aggression principle of living the life they want that isn’t harming others. This includes his close friend, Lingerie, played by Snoop Dogg just playing himself. A successful rapper that just spends days on his boat with beautiful naked women where he boozes and smokes it up with Jimmy Buffet playing himself.
Along the journey Moondog means Flicker (Zac Efron), an energetic and hyper son of a preacher man who carries on doing reprehensible things because Christ already died for our sins, and he meets Captain Wack (Martin Lawrence), a dolphin tour guide with a decayed boat that lives the life he wants of fishing, boating, and sharing cocaine with his addicted parrot. These characters form and help motivate Moondog into writing his next big work. Their friendships with these farcical characters bring great sincerity and reassurance on Moondog’s own philosophy, that the point of life is to have fun, and enjoy life at all costs.
Overall Harmony Korines 6th feature film plays out like a kinder companion piece to “Spring Breakers”, and the film holds the same lighthearted touches that were found in the wonderful “Mister Lonely”. Despite some overdone pot humor that the “Half Baked”, “Harold and Kumar” and “Super Troopers” crowd are going to just lap up, “The Beach Bum” is a highly amusing and sensory film that invokes a small spiritual uplift of what it means to live and be alive. And this is Korine’s point, to achieve artistry, satisfaction, or happiness, one must explore and meander on until the fulfillment comes to them. This is Korine’s less cynical film of his career, and also his most sincere.