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Movie Review: 'The Beach Bum'

Director Harmony Korine’s movies have never been for me, including his highly praised James Franco-laced fever dream Spring Breakers from 2013. I do appreciate that he has a very specific point of view and he makes movies certainly no one else is making. But his aesthetic and the way he treats his characters have never sat well with me.

His latest is The Beach Bum, and this one I actually have more mixed feelings about. It’s not typical Korine, whatever that means, and it’s as straight-ahead as he’s ever been. The movie stars Matthew McConaughey as a brilliant poet named Moondog who’s clearly spent years not writing anything, instead just hanging out in the Florida Keys smoking stunning amounts of weed, enjoying the company of women, and living off his massively wealthy wife. As he says, he just wants to have fun, man. And even though Moondog is pretty much a thoroughly self-absorbed jerk, almost everyone seems to adore him.

I confess I felt bored and slightly irritated for 2/3 of the film, until something very unexpected happened, and it completely reframed the entire movie as an absurdist fantasy. From that point on, that absurdity escalates, and I honestly wasn’t sure what to think-- about Moondog, or about how I’d reacted to any of it.

I’m not surprised that I’m confused about how to react to Harmony Korine, but I do want to praise the acting in The Beach Bum. McConaughey is more nuanced than he first appears, and the supporting cast is delightful, with Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence, and, appropriately, Jimmy Buffett, all turning in mind-bending performances.

But whether The Beach Bum is about anything… or nothing… you’ll have to decide. Maybe it’s about living life on your own terms, or it’s some kind of comment on materialism and late-stage capitalism. Or heck, maybe it’s just about having fun, man.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.