Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum Bare-ly Delivers In Auteur Acid Trip Comedy

Friday 05th, April 2019 / 11:40
by Noémie Attia

For his new feature with an enticing title, Harmony Korine throws Matthew McConaughey in the saturated blue waters of southern Florida during the 95 minute acid trip comedy.

Pursuing even further, after Spring Breakers, his love of neon-lit shots, Korine creates an ultra aestheticized universe, where the Floridian sun shines blue highlights on trees and people’s skin. The film takes all the time to set the feel of high colour dolce vita, in which Moondog (McConaughey), an egocentric drug addict, makes poetry in the streets, in his little boat and in his rich wife’s mansion.

Even though the first part of the film seems storyless and grows tired after a while, a life-changing event occurs in Moondog’s life, which is going to transform… nothing on his perspective of the world. He goes through places and meets different people, which he draws “lessons” from, but he always seems to become what he was before, only even more so.

The Beach Bum is a road movie that allows the protagonist to project his own vision onto what is around him, no matter what capitalist and hygienist society tries to make him strive for. The world conspires to make Moondog happy because he always gets away with being the opposite of what people want him to be, which is what amazes all of them.

Don’t go looking for a moral lesson in The Beach Bum as it’s almost a parody of its genre. The soundtrack goes from The Cure to cute classical pieces. Moondog swings between the life of a bohemian street poet and one of a Miami jetsetter, the only link between the two being his drug addiction. Nothing makes sense and everything is exaggerated, like Snoop Dogg’s enormous joints and his holly weedmas tree lit by pink neons.

One could go see The Beach Bum for its mere aesthetic, from Moondog’s banana earring and stylish dresses, to the cartoon-esque “dolphin” attack, without forgetting the camcorder “archive” shots, reminding of Korine’s early films. Through its jerky rhythm, the editing gives the impression of living the acid trip along with the characters. When the protagonist is taken out of it for a minute, the colours fade and a horrible grey aesthetic makes us want to go back to the multicolour life straight out of a 1970s Super 8 vacation film.

However, Korine’s trip doesn’t strike all the good points. Contrary to Spring Breakers, the film does not pass the Bechdel test. Only two female characters, Moondog’s wife (Isla Fisher) and his daughter (Stefania Owen), get more than one line of dialogue, just to talk about how talented Moondog is even though he is a disrespectful jerk. Moreover, a lot of the women play the part of beautiful half-naked objects in the middle clothed men—although we do very briefly get to see McConaughey’s beach bum.

Korine dives deep in auteur cinema with The Beach Bum—with some of the negative aspects that entails. Yet he doesn’t deny his renowned experimental, sometimes derogatory, and definitely subversive approach of filming weird lives.

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