The trajectory of Matthew McConaughey’s career always belies a sense of adventure but also intention. However the particulars are interesting in what he is drawn to. Many are not commercial possibilities but more have to do with the nature of existence and sometimes not in a mainstream capacity. “The Beach Bum” as directed by Harmony Korine, director of “Kids”, is one of those weird amalgamations where it has a sense of style married with a stream of consciousness narrative. McConaughey plays Moondog, a poet extraordinaire who has fallen under the weight of his own ego, not by a sense of want but by a sense of wantlessness. He can do whatever he wants but chooses to live in a perpetual stupor through which to experience life in its most base or most full. With a cast of characters that includes Zac Efron, Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Martin Lawrence and Jimmy Buffet, the randomness of the proceedings is decidedly excessive. The idea of hanging out at local bars, mansions on Star Island and on boats is an alluring addiction for an actor but is not the complete reason McConaughey goes on the odyssey. Korine is seemingly shooting on very small or non-intrusive camera with available light. Some of the shots of Star Island take almost shots exactly to the spot of Scarface nearly 40 years earlier but doing so with an Oscar winner on the edge of night is a pretty guerrilla approach and does give the proceedings a bit of rawness. The aspect of no guilt versus the conundrum of the true outlay of who Moondog wants to be is left up to the ether. While society tries to contain him and make him expressive of their expectation, he throws it to the wind. McConaughey’s character is weird enough to hang on both edges of society and not adhere or belong to either one. One sequences has him trashing his own mansion with a gang of homeless people (who may or may not have been actual homeless people). There are fleeting perceptions of connection and love but without reflection or barely there impact in this man’s existence. Moondog is the tweaked out uncle of earlier McConaughey stoner ideologies but one slightly but not fully formed. While most of the man, through the design of the actor, is disguised in a haze as his wearing of women’s summer fashions becomes more pronounced, there are very lucid moments (though fleeting) of enlightenment. And the final resolution though bathed in metaphor is soundly and justly arrived at. Moondog is happy in his dingy boat, drifting through the bay of Miami on his back with a PBR in hand. Originally this reviewer had heard about this film at SxSW but it quickly disappeared in terms of an actual theatrical release. It again is an interesting addition to McConaghey’s filmography but, like many not completely full formed but an interesting experiment. The question is how many more of these moderately budgeted films will he be allowed to make before he moves into current Nicolas Cage territory…which by the way Nic is perfectly happy with since it allows him to explore those notions that fascinate him, as they obviously do with McConaughey. The problem in addition also lies with the trailers, as included on the disc. They tell the whole story of the film when simply a more abstract approach would have worked better than the more mainstream perception that might have been attempted. The BUM TV spots were never seen but have that abstract nature to them of Moondog offering advice in the Psychic Friends approach but in bad VHS style. These are inspired in a weird sort of way. The locations in Miami look beautiful on the disc and some spots are off the beaten path which at times, despite the yacht purveying mentality of the shoot, is interesting because the jumping of geography has the locations ranging up and down the coast of South Florida. “The Beach Bum” in an interesting experiment but one despite its intention seem incumbently both free and restricted under its own weight.
By Tim Wassberg
When “Serenity” was released earlier in the year, the essence of the cast and what seemed to be a noir structure gave it definite want-to-see possibility. Matthew McConaughey’s choices are always divisive but he has a certain idea of almost existential progression in most of his roles. The idea for example of making “Sea of Trees” or “Free State Of Jones” perceives to this thematic structure of his work. This film is no different though its blend of high concept and locale might be too much for some viewers to take or give patience to. With a director like Steven Knight, known for “Peaky Blinders”, the blend does have possibility but this is not Christopher Nolan or “Interstellar” for that matter. The comparison obviously moves in play since Anne Hathaway is a catalyst of sorts here as well as she was in that previous movie though in a different structure. The vamp structure she employs here might be a function of not just the plot but the rules that are set forth in the narrative. This blend of what motivates characters and indeed what their ultimate goals are is an interesting quandary within the story.
The film was shot on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean off of South Africa so the locale has an otherworldly quality in that the viewer almost can’t place where it is. Many of the characters are caricatures in this way but again that is a function of the plot without giving anything away. In selling a movie, subtlety and the way a film unfolds is much more criticized than ever before which made this specific release even tougher.
What “Serenity” does have is almost an 80s genre twist while similarly on a restrictive budget but with decent or at least recognizable stars. Diane Lane plays a character that is almost a piggy bank at times for McConuaghney’s Dell. Again when it all is said and done…her character makes sense within the structure even if it is light. Dijmon Honsou who also starred with McConaughey in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” also plays a structural part in the idea. He becomes a voice of reason but also one that unbalances the motivation. Again a specific notion of the plot. Even Jason Clarke as the baddie per se, has a specific arch that is meant as a commentary on what the underlying structure of the story actually is.
Towards the end, the breakdown of exposition might have been too much for audiences to handle because, while it is an intriguing idea, the dialogue, even though it is meant to be stilted at times, overplays its idea. The exposition, in addition, tries too hard even though there are holes in motivation and plot which are too glaring to ignore. Also, some of the sequences and the imagery, especially the jump cuts and McConaughey’s venture through water, may be symbolic but mostly function flat. In terms of technical, the transfer brings out the beauty of the location but the slipshod nature of some of the visual effects takes away from some of the power certain sequences could have had. There are no additional material on the disc, so the movie simply functions on its possibilities which may in time form an idea of one of those genre movies that tried but didn’t quite connect. However it might be one that will be revisited in years to come.
By Tim Wassberg