Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Beach Bum Is Oddly Hokey For A Matthew McConaughey Stoner Comedy

Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), the titular lead character of The Beach Bum, used to be quite the poet. He still does pen down his thoughts in the form of poetry from time to time, but mostly he spends the present just engaging in loose sex, drinking a whole lot and injecting whatever drugs he can get his hands on. Moondog is basically just living the dream down in Miami, especially since he's got a wealthy loving wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), who can help foot the bill and make sure the easy-going duo don't have a care in the world. A life of excess and no worries get ground to a halt when a personal tragedy sends Moondog down to rock bottom and staring down the possibility of rehab. Is Moondog gonna have to change his ways or will he continue to live his life in his own laidback way?

The Beach Bum is as entertaining as it is irritating and the same can be said for its lead character. Matthew McConaughey, who seems to be using his post-Oscar win/Interstellar career bost to just do whatever weird characters he can get his hands on, certainly delivers his fair share of memorable gags as Moondog as he walks around with this long blonde hair, a shirt that looks like it came from the Guy Feri wardrobe line and either a drink or a kitten in his hand. Over the course of a feature-length story, though, both Moondog and the film he headlines seem to do best when they're just mellowing out instead of adhering to any traditional narrative structures.

Scenes where The Beach Bum is a free-flowing dark comedy about Moondog encountering colorful Florida locals are easily where both the feature and its protagonist thrive. This is especially true of a brief section in the middle of The Beach Bum where Moondog hooks up with Flicker (Zac Efron), the son of a preacher hooked on huffing paint who loves to set things on fire. As The Disaster Artist showed, the man who used to play Troy Bolton can play an extremely humorous portrait of a violently toxic dude and that talent is put to fine use here, especially in how Efron gives Flicker pervasively edgy energy that contrasts humorously with the laidback attitude of Moondog.

Their scenes together are the parts where The Beach Bum's unique comedic sensibilities truly feel like they're working, ditto for parts of the supporting performances from Isla Fisher and Jonah Hill. Oddly though, Harmony Korine's screenplay isn't just content to make The Beach Bum a beachside version of Daisies, rather it keeps trying to add in elements one would find in a conventional narrative that feel out of place in a feature that works best when it's eschewing any semblance of having any sort of direction. Worse still, these conventional narrative elements stand out even more because of how tired they are, particularly an early tragic personal event meant to motivate Moondog that is stunning in its lack of creativity.

For a movie that seems to pride itself in creating such bizarre characters, it's surprising Korine would go down such a predictable route to generate conflict for Moondog.  A late attempt to provide some sort of poignant motivation for Moondog's behavior rings especially hallow, though not as hallow as the annoying repetitive dialogue that has supporting characters constantly talk about how great Moondog is. The Beach Bum tends to treat its titular lead character like some kind of diety wrapped up in the guise of a surfer dude and that clashes directly with The Beach Bum's far more successful forays into just having Moondog be a normal dude with a lot of issues who gets into various antics consisting of weird dark comedy.

It's easy to be sporadically amused by Moondog's antics but it's far more difficult to get emotionally invested in Moondog, the all great and powerful, rising back to the top like The Beach Bum oddly wants the viewer to. It's near impossible to be both a cutting-edge rebellious party animal and also totally cookie-cutter and, unfortunately, there's too much in the way of hackney traditional material in the script for The Beach Bum. There are some fun performances and lines in here, certainly, and I like that Matthew McConaughey seems to be refusing to do anything safe in his recent acting choices, but The Beach Bum hits too many lows to truly hit the highs it wants to hit.

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