Please be advised that the following text contains spoilers…
My brother and I recently visited Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg to see The Beach Bum, Harmony Korine’s latest film starring Matthew McConaughey, Isla Fisher, and Snoop Dogg, with appearances from Jimmy Buffett, Jonah Hill, Zac Efron, among others.
The theatre, like the film, is unapologetically absurd, catering custom introductions for each film consisting of random SnapChat videos, old movie trailers, movie scenes, and the like. The introduction for The Beach Bum includes a surfboard-chat scene from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, DJ Khaled’s SnapChat adventure on a jet ski, a video of an African American man clad in a Brooklyn teeshirt cursing to his heart’s content while drinking a disconcertingly neon beverage, as well as more conventional trailers for upcoming films. As random as our introduction was, it was nonetheless entertaining and delightfully humorous.
The film itself, too, is at once random, hilarious, and, if one thinks hard enough, profound. Matthew McConaughey plays Moondog, a carefree Floridian who spends his days drinking, smoking, fishing, and writing poetry, as he is a published poet. Moondog is actually incredibly wealthy and owns a mansion on the waterfront, but the wealth comes from is wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher). After Minnie dies, her will requires that Moondog publish the novel he had always intended to write before he can partake in his wife’s inheritance. The two did indeed love each other, and the will is a testament to Minnie’s deep understanding of her husband.
The Beach Bum follows Moondog’s shenanigans, including a short stay in rehab (before breaking free), witnessing an old friend have his foot bitten off by a shark, and finally setting fire to a sailboat containing millions of dollars in cash. The carelessness with which Moondog, a truly harmless character, lives life is comic but also renders him more likable. He clearly loves his family and loves having fun. He even admits that he feels the universe has conspired to make him happy. The odd admiration one feels for Moondog is accompanied by pity, as The Beach Bum is, after all, somewhat of a tragedy. Moondog seems unable to escape vices (alcohol, drugs, a lack of permanence) but seems absolutely content nonetheless. Perhaps he is the only person who is capable of finding joy in a lifestyle as seemingly structureless as his, and it is our reactions to his lifestyle that make him a tragic character. But, from his point of view, he is likely the happiest man in the world.