After the laughable Serenity, it was anyone’s guess as to how Matthew McConaughey’s latest, The Beach Bum, would turn out. The stoner-riffic, seemingly Lebowski-inspired comedy looks destined to be a cult classic. Written and directed by Harmony Korine, those familiar with his work understand this won’t be a typical movie and will likely be an exercise in patience. A classic example is Spring Breakers, the 2013 release that somehow made partying more serious than fun.

McConaughey plays Moondog, a poet who’s all about experiencing life and taking it easy. In real world speak, it means Moondog parties hard all his time - drinking, taking drugs and screwing young, beautiful females. Occasionally he writes poetry and, for a time, he was a celebrated poet. Interestingly enough, he returns home to his affluent wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), so that he can give away their daughter Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen) during her wedding. After the wedding festivities, Moondog and Minnie party the night away, resulting in a fatal car accident that takes Minnie’s life. Minnie left behind a will which provides an inheritance that will only be granted to him once he finishes his latest book of poems. Until then, Moondog is homeless and broke, and a new chapter of his life has just begun.

One thing that will likely be universally agreed upon is McConaughey put forth a fantastic performance. Moondog seems to be tailor-made for the Oscar winner as his charm remains intact. Without diving too deep, Moondog resembles a counterpart to the Dude, played magnificently by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski. But upon further examination, Moondog, with his dazzling ability to make words come to life, looks more like a Florida version of Hunter S. Thompson. To that effect, The Beach Bum is an updated version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, both sharing the story of a literary genius whose lust for life allows him a boarding pass to the lowest levels of human society. Johnny Depp played Thompson onscreen and it’s difficult choosing between him and McConaughey for the most memorable “living on the edge” performance. What is clear, though, is The Beach Bum would be nothing without McConaughey.

Depending on your taste, The Beach Bum is either fantastic or awful. On one hand, those unfamiliar with Korine and his filmmaking style will come away believing this is boring, unfunny, and unimaginative. It meanders and doesn’t provide much in terms of life lessons or socially relevant themes. One could argue that when one has access to money, leisure is a priority and the consequences of doing whatever one wants is minimal. In that respect it’s similar to HBO’s Entourage, where Vinny Chase and his old pals from the neighborhood have it made, regardless of their asinine choices. But as Moondog travels all over Florida, meeting up and partying with friends (who include Snoop Dogg, Martin Lawrence, Zac Efron, Jonah Hill and Jimmy Buffett) who are just as quirky as he is, the proof is readily available.

But coming from a cinephile’s perspective, this may be Korine’s most coherent film to date. McConaughey’s performance is the catalyst for a road trip flick which stresses the importance of living freely. Also, breaking the rules is quite okay, especially if it doesn’t physically harm others. Sometimes brilliance cannot be stifled and those around such genius needs to trust the process.

I’m in the middle – I understand that genius in any form normally doesn’t happen within a tidy little box. And I also understand Korine’s filmmaking style. Spring Breakers somehow spoke to me and I came away liking it despite its absurdity. But I also came in expecting Spring Breakers to be a drama with obscure references to identity and entitlement, whereas The Beach Bum’s trailers gave off a lighter, humorous vibe. And although there are some moments of hilarity (because it’s easy to laugh at Moondog and his ineptitude), Korine’s latest isn’t laugh out loud funny since he’s recycling the “stoned adult who refuses to grow up” trope. In other words, the shtick gets old, and predicting the ending is relatively easy. So finding a way to be invested in this tale of male debauchery is fleeting, especially since Moondog’s actions are excessive and tone deaf.

But in a moment of levity, McConaughey lets go of all inhibitions by wearing dresses at various times - so there’s that. Still, everything McConaughey does as Moondog is everything we as fans come to expect and love about the man.

The Beach Bum is a cautious recommendation. Knowing your cinematic likes and dislikes should assist in deciding on giving this a shot. If you’re a McConaughey fan who will watch anything he’s in, this review shouldn’t deter you. But if you do seek out The Beach Bum, don’t expect a raunchy comedy. The Beach Bum is a slice of life film cut from an exclusive pie of wealth and misunderstood genius. If you’re not one of those, this may prove to be pointless and colossal waste of time.

3 stars out of 5


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