Brandon’s Angle: Matthew McConaughey gives the performance of a lifetime in the bizarre, but oddly brilliant ‘The Beach Bum’

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Brandon Shillingford, Contributing Writer

I’m not normally someone who believes films are made for certain people, but Harmony Korine’s newest neon daydream “The Beach Bum,” feels made for a certain type of person than any of his other films.

Korine, more than most directors, is the kind of filmmaker to coast on an idea or an aesthetic than actual character development or plot progression. This is true for his much-maligned 2013 masterpiece “Spring Breakers,” and the same goes for “The Beach Bum.” But there’s a certain passion and heart the former lacks that Korine’s newest film is chock full of.

“The Beach Bum” is the story of an aimless drifter with a gift for poetry and partying, Moondog, and the misadventures he gets finds himself in up in alongside a colorful supporting cast with delightful appearances from actors like Snoop Dog, Martin Lawrence, Zac Efron and Jonah Hill.

Moondog tries to balance his urges to run rampant and, in his words, “swallow up the world” on drug-fueled rampages across the coast of Florida, and his duties to his wife Minnie played by Isla Fisher, and his daughter Heather.

While the entire cast is strong and completely committed to the story Korine is trying to tell, this movie belongs to Matthew McConaughey. This entire performance feels like the culmination of McConaughey’s career and the role he’s been waiting on for decades, and it shows.

From the opening scene where he picks up a stray kitten and lovingly coos at it, then takes it home and feeds it milk mixed with Pabst, the complexity he brings to what could’ve been an incredibly annoying and one-note character is immediately visible.

Moondog isn’t just some homeless stoner you’ve seen in movies time and time again. Even though he’s an untrustworthy and irresponsible jerk, supporting characters put up with his antics because there’s something extraordinary about his negligence that people can’t help but be drawn to.

Minnie refers to Moondog as an “Alien” in the film, which is probably the most appropriate description for his character.

Little quirks in the way McConaughey walks and speaks give him the quality of an otherworldly entity, just passing through our planet, wreaking havoc — but amazing us all the same.

Yet, for all of Moondog’s gifts and style, there’s profound sadness in his existence. There’s something tragic about watching him walk around, aimlessly, listening to everyone tell him how brilliant he is and how he is wasting his talent, and barely caring about the harm he does to those around him.

Like “Spring Breakers,” the mood of “The Beach Bum” is in sharp contrast to its aesthetic. Both films are incredibly serious and have a lot to say about society, capitalist culture and love. “The Beach Bum” is less hectic, opting for a much more relaxed pace. The bright, candy-coated colors prepare the viewer for a wild and fast-paced experience. But in reality, it is much slower and melancholy than you would expect. This could be a turn off for some viewers, and I could easily see why.

At times, and specifically in the first act, the film is choppily edited, and Korine struggles to keep the narrative at a consistent pace. The film fights to find a purpose, and while that may be the point, it could have been executed a lot better and with much more focus on the plot and supporting characters.

“The Beach Bum” isn’t a film for everyone. It’s shallow, obnoxious, even superficial. But watching Matthew McConaughey have the time of his life and smoking a ridiculous amount of weed, combined with Harmony Korine’s flair for visual splendor, is truly something to behold.

Rating: 4/5

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