“Things in the world got really serious,” Harmony Korine told the crowd at Austin’s Paramount Theatre before the world premiere of his new film, The Beach Bum, “and I wanted to make a movie that was just about a kind of laughter and cosmic America, and the search and the eternal chase for the bliss moment.”
As it turns out, that bliss moment involves a lot of marijuana. And while it doesn’t look like Korine will be able to execute his original plan of piping weed smoke into theaters when the film opens March 29, those who attended the South by Southwest screening got something close: a postcard meant to be scratched and sniffed during four different scenes.
Sadly for those who chose not to stand in line for two hours at SXSW, we’re told the postcards were just for the premiere. (Metrograph didn’t know whether they’ll be offered at its Harmony Korine retrospective.) But one look at the stills on them and you can guess what they smell like.
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There’s the scene where Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), a Bukowski-esque washed-up poet who bums around Miami and the Florida Keys in a Lambo, admires the weed tree belonging to Snoop Dogg’s character, an R&B singer named Lingerie who parties with Jimmy Buffett and a “Big Pimpin’”-worthy harem on his yacht. There’s the scene where Moondog, under the influence of hallucinogenic weed and “Margaritaville,” walks into the pool at his daughter’s wedding after discovering that Lingerie has been hooking up with his wife. There’s Moondog loading weed into a van as he prepares to flee justice with a blind, ganja-toking Rastafarian pilot. (No, the seaplane doesn’t have hydraulics a la Snoop Dogg’s Soul Plane.) The “rasta van” was parked outside of the Paramount to celebrate Saturday’s premiere.
The postcard should give you a good sense of what The Beach Bum is about. The stoner comedy, inspired in part by Cheech & Chong’s oeuvre, has all of the wall-to-wall, ball-to-ball depravity you’d expect from the writer-director of Spring Breakers. Less expectedly, it also has some heart.
Sure, Moondog’s family seems totally dysfunctional, given that he knows his daughter’s fiancée only as Limp Dick and has to ask for the guy’s real name while giving a wedding toast that involves squeezing the groom’s junk. And yes, when he’s served PBR on a silver tray, Moondog seems to be merely using his wife for her family fortune. That is, until an unexpected plot twist forces him to try to earn his keep by rekindling some of his former glory as a poet. A sample line from his early work reads like a stoner version of fellow Key West scribe Ernest Hemingway: “I drank off the teets of caribou; scrumptious, tastes like jasmine and cupcakes.”
Despite all this, there’s genuine affection between Moondog and his albeit exasperated daughter (Stefania LaVie Owen). Add in a subtle, symphonic score and you begin to wonder whether the director of Gummo has gone soft. I mean, seriously, how do you go from that movie’s non-stop black metal, to a soundtrack of Jimmy Buffet and Gordon Lightfoot?
Any fear that Korine has lost his eye for grotesquery is laid to rest when we meet Zac Efron’s character, a Christian punk and pyromaniac who helps Moondog bust out of rehab a la One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He sports frosted hair, a Bluetooth, and the beard equivalent of the hair that James Franco’s Alien rocked in Spring Breakers. And then there’s Captain Wack, the gun-toting dolphin watcher who has had “only” four tourists die on his watch; he snorts cocaine on deck like he’s a character in Hunter S. Thompson’s The Curse of Lono. Martin Lawrence’s comeback was secured with the line “Now I gotta feed my coke-addicted parrot”; he got a huge round of applause during the post-screening q&a.
Clearly, The Beach Bum is every bit as much of a joy ride as the one Moondog takes in a stolen boat after he loses his own vessel, the Well Hung. But underneath all the dick jokes, one wonders whether the bard-turned-bum isn’t partly a stand-in for Korine, who achieved early success as the writer of Kids, alienated mainstream audiences with films that were often called self-indulgent, and finally got back into Hollywood’s good graces with Spring Breakers.
During the q&a, Korine was asked if the film has a message about art and money; he would only say that one often fucks the other. Moondog literally illuminates his stance against art for the sake of money with one over-the-top act at the end of the movie. It’s tempting to argue that Korine has gone the opposite way by writing something that could be a spec script for the Hangover franchise. Fortunately, as with Spring Breakers, Benoît Debie’s psychedelic, magic-hour photography makes The Beach Bum a world unto itself, and a very inviting one.