Movie Review: Matthew McConaughey Revels in the Role of a Buzzed Bard in 'The Beach Bum' | Movie+TV Reviews | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Movie Review: Matthew McConaughey Revels in the Role of a Buzzed Bard in 'The Beach Bum'


Published April 3, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 21, 2019 at 12:26 p.m.

Everything's relative. Truth, I'd posit, is sort of a great lazy Susan of realities. What you think about any given thing is likely determined by which dish lands in front of you.

For example, take the controversial case of Harmony Korine, just 19 when he scripted Kids (1995). Since then, he's written and directed some of the most unusual movies ever to earn major prizes and critical scorn — provocations such as Gummo (1997), Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) and Spring Breakers (2012).

Say you know Korine only from his appearances on "Late Night With David Letterman." An incident caused the host to ban him. If you were to go by just Dave, you'd probably write off Korine as a flake.

But what if what that crazy lazy Susan rouletted your way was a serving of praise from the auteur's peers? According to Korine's fan site, Bernardo Bertolucci credited Korine with "a revolution in the language of cinema." Gus Van Sant claimed his work "changed his life." In a review, Roger Ebert called him "the real thing, an innovative and gifted filmmaker." Suddenly he doesn't seem so flaky.

The enfant terrible is today 46, married and the father of two. Maturity, I'm pleased to report, hasn't put his freak streak at hazard. The Beach Bum is one of the weirdest films I've ever seen. Also one of the bravest and most blissed out. Next to Matthew McConaughey's Moondog, Jeff Bridges' the Dude in The Big Lebowski could pass for an insurance adjuster. They're spiritual brethren, but the Force is with one in a much bigger way.

Moondog is a poet. An accomplished one. His last accomplishment is years in the rearview, however. His current project involves the zealous pursuit not of art but of pleasure. Living on a luxury houseboat in Key West, Fla., he spends most of his time in dive bars; on the beach typing on his red manual; or hanging with Snoop Dogg, who plays his friend and supplier, Ray, and Jimmy Buffett, who plays, well, Jimmy Buffett. Rarely is a Pabst tallboy, tropical beverage, police-baton-size blunt or some combination thereof not close by.

Moondog isn't wasting away in Margaritaville. He's having the time of his life all of the time. When he speedboats home to Miami for his daughter's wedding, we meet Minnie (Isla Fisher), his very rich, very like-minded mate. Their marriage is so open that she's not only having an affair with Ray, she's OK with the dudes discussing details like the play-by-play from a big game. You shouldn't mistake their cool for indifference, though. Love and devotion run deep in all directions.

A tragic twist forces Moondog to get it together and finish his long-gestating new book. A less subversive filmmaker would 12-step things straight to third-act redemption. Not Korine. If anything, the hard-partying bard doubles down on his Dionysian high jinks. They're fundamental to Moondog's process. The story's prediction-proof resolution is an improbably moving succession of surprises.

About that roulette wheel of reality: If all you knew about this film was that it bombed (McConaughey's worst opening ever), you might figure it's worth missing. But the fact is, Moondog is the role the Oscar winner was born to play, and Korine's upending of convention is a thing of startling beauty. Another poet wrote, "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty' — that is all / Ye know on earth and all ye need to know." The Beach Bum packs more of both than any 50 superhero sagas. Really, isn't that all anyone should need to know?

The original print version of this article was headlined "The Beach Bum"