SR Films: I Watched “The Beach Bum” So You Don’t Have To
It’s one thing to say a movie is bad, it’s another thing to mean it so much. I will declare frankly and from the beginning of this review that I don’t think anyone should waste money on this movie—both for your own immediate interest and for us all as a society, because hopefully if you don’t give the movie money, Hollywood will stop financing crap like this (or so it would go in a proper world).
From the get-go, it’s easy to see that the movie wants to be seen as youth culture flick—a piece on the pulse that rings with the tides and brings in an appreciative audience. The makers probably expected a young demographic to be their main audience. Clearly ignorant, the filmmakers have actually made a deeply secondary, far removed reaction to a zeitgeist that is pretty much gone today in 2019. By that I mean that whatever demographic it would’ve had has moved on, leaving its already shallow aesthetic details feeling particularly irrelevant—coming off as canned, tried, done and dead. That fact is obvious even without watching the movie, just watch a trailer or look at a poster.
But let’s just say that we entertain the idea of the movie— I believe I’m not alone in this, I imagined Moondog as something of a genuine bum— a vagrant who throws caution to the wind, lets the chips fall where they may, and ends up with a smile on his face and joint between his lips regardless what he gets into. We’d hope that what happens to him is fun and in keeping with the good vibes that are seemingly intrinsic to such a character. In other words, within such a paradigm, as I previously noted, the characters optimism and carefree ways would be genuinely refreshing, especially when we find the character, as I began to say, within a context that in a compelling and entertaining way, applies pressure on the positive vibes, tests us through our main character, reaffirming the trust we have in optimism, in hope, the value of goodwill, etc., and solidifies our perception of Moondog as a kind of Diogenes in Florida, a symbol for/agent of those concepts and according philosophy. That would be nice– that would be a treat. But of course, that’s expecting way too much, especially when considering that it’s not just expecting a technically proficient film, but also a film whose filmmakers’ aim is to fulfill those particular goals.
The fact that the makers went another way with their movie shouldn’t be an issue and the fact that I have differing predilections shouldn’t be either. In all likelihood, given a technically sufficient film, I would probably enjoy it anyhow, especially since I don’t expect or need much from a stoner movie to be entertained (although Inherent Vice really raised that bar high). Unfortunately, though, and rather expectedly (considering the elements involved in the product and the principals involved in its production—i.e. late stage sell-out Harmony Korine, and a slew of cheap has-beens trying to jump on a bandwagon of spent trends), that’s not what we get.
The movie swerves any reasonable footing, making Moondog and his story an ugly impossibility of extreme fantasy. Right from the first moments of the movie, it starts off on circumstances that are just too wrong-footed and dull to be digested properly. The silly opening credits end, it cuts to a short montage of how he spends his time—getting loaded, stealing cats, stumbling through dive bars in the keys, imposing himself on people that seem to be cool with his antics, sleeping with girls that somehow find him attractive, spewing bad poetry— and so it goes for the rest of the movie with little blips of bad storytelling mixed in.
After that initial scene, the narrative starts to roll out and we find him waking up on a rickety boat full of naked women, where he gets a call from a rich debutant (Isla Fischer) that turns out to be his wife, Minnie, who tells him that she misses him and demands he get his smelly body back in her loving arms, while Snoop Dogg’s character stands around behind her in his underwear, hugging and tickling her as she talks on the phone. It all plays out really weirdly because these characters all engage with each other during that phone call and everything seems to be causally understood. The thing is that in this scene the filmmakers tried to articulate that Minnie and Rei are having an affair and that Moondog doesn’t know about it, but it totally doesn’t come off that way at first.
The movie wastes a lot of time with poor articulation, repeating itself in its cheaply spelling out a portrait of Moondog and the narrative details that surround him. It repeatedly throws in our face the significance of certain elements: Minnie is his wife, they love each other but do their own thing, they have a 22-year-old daughter, they live a life of excessive luxury and languor, Rei is his close friend, and he is, in fact, having an affair with Minnie, outside of Moondog’s knowledge. At one point Minnie explains to her improperly cast and poorly performed daughter (who apparently has strong feelings about her father’s lifestyle choices but can laugh off her mother’s casual deception) that she only loves Moondog and if he knew about the affair he would indubitably approve of it (a point which defeats the purpose of keeping it a secret) before going on to talk about Rei’s endowment and how good he is at using it. It all goes very far away from expectations or tolerability very quickly and becomes a bit of a chore to watch.
In perfect commercial film order, it goes on to show Moondog seeing Minnie and Rei flirting and kissing, but of course, doesn’t take it as lightly as they had expected (which is odd because Moondog clearly sleeps around too) yet doesn’t make an issue out of it either. He doesn’t confront them or tell them that he knows or anything, he just walks into a pool with his cheetah print tuxedo on, beginning a montage of melancholy, only to be followed by another awkward montage between him and his wife where the filmmakers try to weirdly segue into a demonstration of the fact that despite everything, his wife was right and Moondog really is okay with it, because, in the end, they are in fact in love with each other. Then Minnie dies in a car crash. Just like that. Halfway through the flick— in the middle of that annoying montage— they killed her. And just like that, I felt like a total fool for ever watching, let alone reviewing this piece of shit.
This film then goes on to awkwardly develop this already weird situation, with his wife leaving a stupid point in her will (which becomes the conflict of the second half) saying that he can’t have her money (because his wealth was actually hers, which makes their dynamic even more strange) until he finishes his magnum opus (because Moondog is apparently a great writer that needs a death and a threat of poverty to actually finish his work).
Setting this goal for him and missing the virtue in narrative brevity, the film develops further into something of a sun-bleached early-mid 00’s bougie stoner Steve Martin with tasteless nudity, a couple instances of Jonah Hill do a slap-worthy accent and Zac Efron as a mod-clad insane caricature of a Floridian with flare pants, a Bart Simpson haircut, Heely shoes, crazy facial hair, and a bunch of other weird throwbacks to 00’s madness. From that point, the filmmakers degraded even further into shameless predictably and all-out cartoonish ridiculousness (google “Martin Lawrence gets his leg bitten off by a shark” to get a taste).
As for the technical bones of the flick— the pace, the editing, the dialogue, the all-around moment to moment execution—all left me feeling like the film is constantly chasing its own tail, never chilling in any moment it reaches, let alone chilling in anything genuine or enjoyable. It’s constantly on the move to the next shot, the next line, the next sequence, which odds are might be another montage. The whole thing was a mess and to tie it together the filmmakers tried slapping on a tacky score that even Nora Ephron would toss in the trash.
This movie is so poorly conceived and put together that you’d think a horny teenager that just started smoking weed, with no concept of how to make a proper movie, both technically and aesthetically, went out and spewed every half-baked idea they had into a multi-million dollar production starring Mathew McConaughey and countless other aimless cameos that appear for a scene, amount to nothing and disappear, never to be seen again. It’s a blatant display of the filmmakers’ mediocrity and shamelessness— accordingly, I think you should avoid engagement and watch/do literally anything else.