The Beach Bum: The BRWC Review. Character studies can make for spectacular films. They are a versatile basis for any filmmaker looking to develop depth in the story they are setting out to tell. From there the films can go anywhere, and they may become evocative and mesmerising as they paint new ways to see the world.
Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum is a character study, and it does none of that. However, Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) makes for an almost irresistible character to study and even if everything is a bit much, it’s one hell of a ride.
Moondog, in his own words, has to “get low to get high”. He likes to slum it on the streets, and as long as he’s got a can of Blue Ribbon (which is shamelessly promoted throughout) and a joint with him, he’s having a good time, and that is all he wants to do in life. Yet, he is so much more than just the titular ‘beach bum’. Moondog is a published poet, slowly writing another book at the behest of his slimy agent Lewis (Jonah Hill) and his wealthy wife Minnie (Isla Fisher). Joined by more eccentric members of society along the way Moondog lives life how he wants to and without compromise, and that is a strong parallel to the movie itself.
Korine goes at this film knowing exactly what he wants to do, and even though what he is trying to do is insane, he still sticks to its rigorously. At no point does this film feign genuine emotional depth or attempt to impart influential wisdom, but I don’t think Korine was trying to do that. At the end of the day, The Beach Bum plays just like you think it would, wild and free, with zero effort to be anything it’s not.
I respect this film as a whole for being that way; it knows precisely what it is and wholly embraces the lack of logic and etiquette that saturates its narrative. In going this way, we might not get the most exciting story, but we do get a fully realised performance from a totally immersed Matthew McConaughey who was born to star as Moondog.
His performance is hilarious and unwavering. McConaughey simply is Moondog, as if he always has been, it is quite remarkable. Moondog’s adventure has plenty of glaring plot holes that ensure none of what occurs could ever translate into real life. However, he has a clear, if simple, worldview, nonetheless. He sees life as a game, and he doesn’t understand why he’s the only one playing, he doesn’t care either. He is the very essence of freedom and is impervious to anything breaking his spirit as he puffs along the road to nowhere.
The all-star cast around him don’t have nearly as much to sink their teeth into, but all come across as if they were having loads of fun filming this utterly mental experience. How could you not? For better or for worse the film is fun, illogical, lacking insight and vulgar, but fun.
The Beach Bum may completely lack competent storytelling, but it’s still an intriguing character study, nonetheless. It’s a shame Korine didn’t look to do more with Moondog as an individual who refuses to conform in a judgemental world and the consequences of that; there may well have been a compelling story in that concept. At least we had a good time, right?
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