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Harmony Korine has built a reputation by throwing audiences full-bodied into worlds of taboo, pleasure and depravity. Whether it’s the recklessness of the jaded New York teens in Kids, or the neon-colored rampage of bikini-clad co-eds in Spring Breakers, Korine dares audiences to revel and empathize with characters who risk being written off as cartoons or cautionary tales. In The Beach Bum, the writer-director turns his observational eye and provocateur verve to a Miami community of misfits, who chase bliss in sex, drugs and misadventures. The result is a film that is joyous, outrageous and slyly mournful.
Matthew McConaughey stars as Moondog, a once successful poet who has fallen out of the spotlight, coddling himself in clouds of pot smoke, rivers of booze, and the forgiving cushion of his rich wife’s fortune. At a glance, you’d never know Moondog isn’t a vagrant. His long, scraggly blond hair frames a face perpetually cracked open in a mad guffaw, exposing a broad smile and a dead tooth. His conversation swings from the peculiar to the prophetic and profound. One moment he’s cooing over a kitten, proclaiming it “angel pussy”. The next, he’s having sex with a busty stranger in a burger joint’s kitchen, calling out to the diners who look on in mild bemusement. Moondog is a free spirit whose wealth insulates him from many of life’s troubles. That is, until it’s gone.
In the blink of an eye, he goes from eccentric millionaire to homeless weirdo. Faced with financial ruin, Moondog must clean up his act and complete his dormant novel. In doing so, he will hang with a slew of colorful characters: a pyromaniac/“prayer warrior” (Zac Efron), a dolphin-obsessed sea captain (Martin Lawrence), a suave marijuana-connoisseur (Snoop Dogg, not playing himself), and a world-famous singer who has made a career off beach bum appeal (Jimmy Buffett, playing himself). Moondog’s is a world rich in color, splashed with vibrant beachwear, vivid sunsets and the bright lights of Miami. Its vibe is so warm and inviting, you can practically feel the sunshine on your skin and smell the weed in the air. For the first act, Korine is happy to just follow Moondog as he follows his bliss, giving impromptu poetry readings, cackling with friends, or turning up to his daughter’s wedding dressed in a flame-print swim-trunk-and-blazer combo that looks like it came straight from a Guy Fieri fashion line. But there’s a creeping melancholy beneath Moondog’s giggles.
Throughout The Beach Bum, there are moments that puncture its revelry: an unexpected death, the mention of a crippling war wound, the fear of being forgotten or alone. With each, Moondog swirls, dances, rhapsodizes or seduces, not blithely or obliviously. A tender tear rolling down his face gives us a window into how his happiness is a choice. Moondog might seem a clown or a mad fool. But he’s a savage sage who sees the world for what it is, a place capable of great pain and great pleasure. And he chooses the latter. Again and again, whatever the cost.
As Moondog, McConaughey seems to revel in aping his public persona. He struts around in banana hammocks, playing bongos nearly in the buff, smoking up, getting off and getting by. Moondog “just keeps living” – McConaughey’s personal motto. But in quiet closeups, McConaughey reveals the emotional labor behind this choice. We see Moondog take in a situation, a flirtation, a farewell and see him process the pain of it. Then he slides into something sweeter – a pool, a puff, a holiday, or a hook-up. While he laughs and dances and makes his mirth contagious, the ache sinks beneath the surface. Moondog becomes a metaphor for the human condition, where we are painfully aware of the horrors of life and our own mortality, yet persevere to find joy anyway. In that way, The Beach Bum is glorious inspiration. But more than that it is a spirited sermon.
Moondog is a high priest of the power of pleasure. His mass is one of house parties, fireworks and visceral poetry. His parishioners are wannabe pirates, party people, a coke-addicted parrot and victims of fate. His hymn is a jam session between Snoop and Buffett (the former of whom proves to be a surprisingly natural actor, the latter smoothly leaning into his brand). And his God is bliss, elusive and glorious. To seek it out, Moondog preaches with raised hands and a captivating cackle. And seek out The Beach Bum.
Source: The Guardian
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