SXSW Review: ‘The Beach Bum’ Is Why We Don’t Do Drugs

SXSW Film Festival: There is such a thing as too much weed, and the proof is in Harmony Korine‘s new stoner flick, “The Beach Bum.”

Premiering at SXSW, Korine’s latest tells the story of Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), an over-the-hill stoner who spends his days dropping acid, smoking weed, and having a lot of sex. He is praised as an amazing, talented, exceptionally gifted poet whose collection of self-published books are supposedly life-changing. We know this because we are told this, despite all evidence to the contrary.

In fact, the entire film is dedicated to telling us just how great Moondog is, even when there is no visible proof of said brilliance. His wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) is exceedingly rich and not only funds his lifestyle but apparently approves of it. He has spent years away from their Miami home, drifting around the Keys. Their reunion on the day of their daughter’s wedding is full of more sex and drugs and a baffling welcome home. Minnie loves Moondog, and the only offered explanation is that he is brilliant.

When his antics lead to her early departure, his meandering, meaningless existence only becomes more irritating. This is a classic tale of a loser who always manages to win, even though he absolutely should not. The film unfolds like the ultimate dream of every stoner who believes all their ideas are brilliant, and that anyone who doesn’t appreciate them is simply not enlightened enough to understand.

In fact, many fans of Korine will try to make such a claim about “The Beach Bum.”

The auto-reply to every negative comment on this latest movie is some variation of, “Well clearly you didn’t like ‘Spring Breakers.'” The problem with such an assumption is that it also implies that one fun romp means that every outing from a director will always be as successful. Where “Spring Breakers” leans into its ridiculous, silly premise, “The Beach Bum” celebrates idiocy to a degree that just doesn’t work in 2019. The time for boring, middle-aged men to succeed at doing nothing, and to be heaped with praise and adoration for it, is over. We’ve seen these stories a hundred times. They don’t get better. They only get more pathetic.

Everything about this film is overdone, played out, and insipid. Moondog’s daughter, Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen) watches over him with adoration, for no discernible reason. Martin Lawrence shows up as some kind of hallucination. As quickly as he arrives he is dispatched and we are left to wonder why, exactly, he was there in the first place. Jonah Hill as literary agent seems to be in some competition to be the loudest person on the set. Snoop Dogg plays Snoop Dogg, only in this version of himself his name is Lingerie. He’s having an affair with Minnie, a fact that only matters long enough to play catalyst to a series of events that lead to Minnie’s aforementioned early departure. And Zac Efron shows up looking like he’s auditioning to play Bryan Abrams in some future Color Me Badd biopic.

Is there an audience for “The Beach Bum?” Of course, there is. There always will be. Therein lies one of the problems. The less we expect from our entertainment, the less we deserve. This isn’t a fun and lively romp. It is a sad cry for attention from someone grasping at his own dwindling relevance.

“The Beach Bum” is distributed by Neon and hits theaters on March 29.

GRADE: (★)

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