The stoner comedy is a genre of film that has slowly faded away. There have been films that have been based around smoking weed, but none that really fall into what it really means to be a stoner comedy. A movie where the weed isn’t so much a main character, but a weapon that our stoned out hero or heroes use in order to survive their personal quest, which can vary from dodging drug dealers to going to White Castle. You’d have to go back eleven years to The Pineapple Express for the last original stoner comedy and A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas in 3-D for the last true stoner comedy, though that one is part of a trilogy. It almost felt as though the stoner comedy had vanished from the cinematic lexicon.
Watching Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum was watching a genre be reborn. This is as pure of a stoner comedy that there has been since the aforementioned films above. We have a delightfully high stoner, a number of insane characters, a spiritual journey, and an obscene amount of smoking. Yet even with a near perfect first two acts, The Beach Bum fails to become a stoner comedy classic thanks to an arrogant, bad move by Korine.
Let me tell you about a man named Moondog (Matthew McConaughey). Moondog is out “beach bum” and boy, is he the bummest of them all. A former poet now turned burn out who roams the grungy, low-end beaches in Florida, smoking with the locals and even hooking with a few in local restaurant kitchens. However, when not on the low-end beaches, Moondog actually lives a rather luxurious life thanks to his wife, Minnie (Isla Fischer). Minnie seems to be the only person who believes Moondog is a great poet and she loves him dearly, even if she is sleeping with Lingerie (Snoop Dogg), a family friend and one of Moondog’s go-to weed dealer. After an accident kills Minnie, she leaves Moondog everything under one condition: he publishes a book of poetry. With no poetry brewing in his brain and no money or place to live, Moondog goes on a journey of inspiration and self-discovery to get that book published.
Matthew McConaughey has been in a lot of movies and played a lot of characters, but Moondog seems like it was made for McConaughey. The incredibly chill, no drama needed, permanently stoned bum trolls around Florida stealing, mooching, and breaking numerous other laws all while donning a pair of Uggs. It is such a blast to watch Moondog on his journey and an even better time watching McConaughey play Moondog. McConaughey hasn’t had this much fun playing a character since Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. There is a freedom McConaughey exudes that allows his performance to be so natural and fun. You want to be friends with Moondog even when he is pulling petty crimes. Moondog will soon become a stoner movie icon.
But Moondog isn’t the only great character in The Beach Bum and McConaughey isn’t the only great performance. Snoop Dogg rocks as Lingerie, who is a lot like Moondog, yet has his life more or less together. Jonah Hill is a lot fun as Moondog’s horrible agent. I don’t know what accent Hill was doing, but it was either ridiculously awful or brilliant. Either way, I loved it. Zac Efron continues his recent trend of interesting role choices as Flicker, a guy Moondog meets during his brief stint in rehab who rocks JNCO jeans, and panini-inspired beard cut, and loves Creed and lighting things on fire. He’s remarkable. And my favorite performance in the entire movie comes from Martin Lawrence as the worst dolphin tour guide on the planet. Lawrence is an absolute scene stealer and is also key in the film’s wildest and funniest moment. Lawrence hasn’t been in a movie in almost a decade and it is so good to see him back.
Korine had something special here. He created a fun, free-wheeling movie with a wonderful cast all playing unique characters. So where did he go wrong? I don’t want to spoil the finale of the movie or anything, as I try to not spoil any movie, but the end of the movie, particularly the final twenty minutes or so, is just an ego trip by Korine. We were on this glorious journey with our stoner hero and it has to end with a Korine stroking himself and complimenting himself about how great of genius he thinks he is. It is so infuriating. And to top it off, the film takes forever to end. Scenes just keep happening and happening to a point where I almost began to miss Return of the King. Such a shame the movie had to end this way.
The Beach Bum is a nice return of a genre that had almost become extinct with a legendary performance from Matthew McConaughey. But Korine’s arrogance is what keeps this movie from being a stoner classic, which is an absolute bummer.
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