The Beach Bum

(Korine, 2019)

While we may not pay them much mind in real life, drifters and derelicts have long been romanticized by the Hollywood machine. Some of our most charming and attractive stars have “dirtied up” to play a sexy slacker— Hell, even Matthew McConaughey has even played this archetype before (Mud in Mud, for example). The Beach Bum may be the latest in the “lovable drifter character study” genre, but something about it makes it feel. 

The Beach Bum is glossy, rambunctious, and straight up weird. It is about a poet named Moondog, it is visually-stunning and sexually charged, it is one of the most ambitious and outlandish stoner comedies I have ever seen. But it’s also not very good. Harmony Korine’s messaging is relatively clear: he wants to seem savvy, self-aware, and sharp. But his directorial prowess is burdened by a self-indulgent script that would rather pander to its audience than actually say something meaningful. McConaughey is admittedly perfect as the faux-poetic Floridian drifter, but even he can’t save this movie from its own pretension. Funnily enough, Moondog and The Beach Bum actually have a lot in common: both are lazy, unintelligent, and painfully unaware of their own douchebaggery.

The sad part is, there might be an edit of this movie that is actually good. Take out the excessive nudity and basically any scene involving Snoop Dogg, keep the sequences really work (the Martin Lawrence dolphin excursion and the Zac Efron-assisted rehab escape come to mind), and you might have a product that rises above its own kitsch. But taking The Beach Bum as it is, it’s hard not to groan and sigh ever five or so minutes. I can’t help but think that it would have worked better as an HBO series, or a collection of short films— I mean, the whole thing is basically just a series of self-contained vignettes anyway. For every moment that The Beach Bum hits with confidence, there is another where it fails completely.

If this movie sounds like your cup of tea, it probably is— I will not deny anyone the pleasure of indulging in something bright and dumb. But for those who champion The Beach Bum as a purposeful, genuine piece of art, I respectfully disagree. ★★½

David Merkle