Florida Video Game Stoner Party Case File # 130/My Year of Flops II #27 The Beach Bum (2019)
As befits a glorious lark of a motion picture that climaxes with its degenerate yet oddly lovable anti-hero Moondog (Matthew McConaughey, in a half-assedly career-defining performance) setting tens of millions of dollars on fire just for the fuck of it, The Beach Bum is a wonderful waste. It’s a stoner comedy whose most brilliant and sustained gag is that it exists at all, that an Academy-Award winning icon, an aging Enfant terrible of a writer-director and a supporting cast that includes Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill, Jimmy Buffet, Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron and Martin Lawrence all decided that it was worth their time and energy to make a movie that’s barely a movie, with a story it could not possibly care less about and, in poet, partier and all-around character Moondog, a protagonist who is continually heralded as a genius despise behaving like an X-rated human version of Spuds Mackenzie.
More than anything, The Beach Bum is a wild, wacky and crazily entertaining meditation on the Cult of Matthew McConaughey, its star, soul and spiritual inspiration. It would be impossible to imagine The Beach Bum with anyone but Mr. Alright, Alright, Alright in the lead. Like Burt Reynolds before him in superior vehicles like Gator, McConaughey here has the curious distinction of being a scuzzy, almost feral Florida lowlife degenerate and an irresistible sex God men want to be and women want to fuck. Everyone wants to fuck Moondog even as the film goes to perverse lengths to make a longtime contender for world’s sexiest man dramatically less fuckable.
Everything about Moondog’s look is designed to make his less attractive. Moondog wears perversely unflattering granny glasses along with equally regrettable sunglasses, often at the same time, to give him a bit of a “Dwayne Wayne stumbling stoned and drunk out of a Club Med orgy at three in the morning” look. Moondog’s hair is stringy and unkempt, his facial hair patchy. He spends the first two acts of the film dressed like he stole his wardrobe from the beachwear section of Goodwill and the final act in drag that no one could possibly be fooled by except the authorities Moondog is successfully evading.
Yet Moondog remains weirdly irresistible all the same because he’s played by an icon who oozes charm and movie star magnetism even when his vibe is “Homeless man in need of a shower and detox.” The Beach Bum explores and exploits the outsized place McConaughey takes up in our individual and collective imagination as a sex god, alpha male, ultimate party animal, Academy Award winning thespian, punchline and national treasure.
McConaughey stars in The Beach Bum as the aforementioned Moondog, a minor Florida legend whose days are an interchangeable blur of drinking, using every drug, anonymous sex with an endless series of enthusiastic partners and tap tap tapping away at a typewriter he uses to compose the poetry that leads everyone, but everyone, in the film to think he’s an incomparable genius when it comes to putting together words even if he seems borderline illiterate.
The Beach Bum represents perhaps the funniest and most sustained parody of the Egregiously Unconvincing False Genius trope I have ever seen. The Egregiously Unconvincing False Genius trope involves a TV show or movie or book constantly trying to convince us that its characters are geniuses creating transcendent, incontrovertibly brilliant and undeniable art when the snippets of work we get to see and experience suggest they’re talentless phonies.
Take Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It angrily insisted that the weekly sketch comedy show of the title was a transcendent work of television art that brought Dr. Strangelove-level political and social satire to the airwaves on a week basis. Yet the bits of sketches and recurring characters we actually got to see suggested it was more like MadTV with pretensions. The gulf between how brilliant and audacious and original Studio 60 needed its characters to be in order to justify its preposterous self-importance and how modestly talented and annoyingly derivative they actually were was so vast and all-consuming that watching Aaron Sorkin’s rightly reviled, weirdly mourned TV drama it was hard to think of anything else.
On a similar note, when Moondog favors us with his poetry it falls somewhere between a very poor man’s Bukowski and the kind of doggerel you might see spray-painted on a bathroom wall. Yet everyone in The Beach Bum is nevertheless convinced that Moondog is history’s greatest poet, a peerless wordsmith and natural artist whose life represents one big, lazy act of performance art but whose genius and passion is for putting words together in hauntingly beautiful and profound ways, or rather “hauntingly beautiful” and “profound” ways.
Christ, even the stern judge who sentences Moondog to rehab or prison, temporarily harshing his buzz, expresses reverence for his beautiful words before leaving him with the encouraging words, “Don’t let us down, Moondog! We’re rooting for you!”
All Moondog does is let people down. Yet people can’t stop rooting for him all the same. Moondog can’t be bothered to remember his adult daughter’s age or the name of her fiancé but that doesn’t keep his many fans and cultists from revering him anyway. His daughter observes of her complicated yet extremely simple father, “He may be a jerk but he’s a great man.”
Moondog is most assuredly a jerk interested only in pursuing his own selfish pleasure but he is not a great man. Yet even before Moondog wins the Pulitzer Prize WHILE hiding out from the police it never stops being hilarious for everyone in The Beach Bum to act like he’s the second coming of William Blake with a little of Maya Angelou’s soul thrown in for good measure.
Yes, Moondog just keeps living his best life with a bottle in one hand, a joint in the other and his oversexed member inside a random conquest. Life is good for Moondog in part because he is spectacularly rich due to his multi-millionaire wife Minnie (Isla Fisher). Minnie seems, if anything, way too overly supportive of her hubby’s life of aimless hedonism but when she dies she leaves a provision in her will that he will not be able to inherit her fortune unless he finishes the book-length masterwork he is working on, and I use the word “work” very lightly here.
Yes, things look dire for a man whose life is a never-ending party but don’t worry. Terrible things happen to Moondog throughout The Beach Bum. His wife dies. He’s kicked out of his home. He’s arrested and sentenced to rehab. Captain Wack, a dolphin boat captain played by Martin Lawrence in his best, funniest and freshest performance in decades, ends up losing a limb to sharks. But don’t worry! No matter how bad things look good old Moondog is never more than three or four minutes away from once again guzzling hard liquor, smoking comically outsized joints and partying in hot tubs and boats and scuzzy hotel rooms with willing dudes and dudettes, including Zac Efron as a rehab runaway who says things like “I’m a tiger, Bro!” Snoop Dogg as a Snoop Dogg-like superstar named Lingerie with a friendship with Moondog so strong it withstands Lingerie fucking Moondog’s wife for a period of years and Jimmy Buffet as himself.
It amuses me that The Beach Bum has an elaborate plot summary on Wikipedia because literally nothing in the plot matters at all. It might seem to matter for a matter of minutes, but then it becomes achingly clear that The Beach Bum, like its protagonist, is exclusively concerned with having a good time, and isn’t about to let logic, plot or character development get in the way of throwing an absurdist stoner cinematic party for the ages.
The Beach Bum scored the lowest wide opening of its perfectly typecast star’s sometimes spectacular, sometimes embarrassing career. Even Serenity grossed over twice as much its first weekend and that is a notorious flop in addition to being the perfect double feature companion to The Beach Bum.
I love the idea that since they both star Matthew McConaughey, take place partially on a boat where grizzled weirdoes take advantage of asshole tourists and are not only set in, but embody the degenerate, debauched spirit of Florida, America’s enduring shame, and flopped at the box office just a few months apart Serenity and The Beach Bum inhabit the same universe and are thematically connected.
I want to live in a world where Moondog and his buddies (Captain Wack, Lingerie, Jimmy Buffet, ) are playable characters in the Serenity video game, and that you can choose to play as Moondog and have him and McConaughey’s Serenity sailor double-team your mom in a mind-blowing, reality-warping cyber-orgy. Alternately, you can tag Snoop Dogg’s Lingerie into the proceedings and have him and McConaughey’s wildly different protagonists from Serenity and The Beach Bum triple-team your mother until she’s so overcome with sexual gratification she can barely stand it.
Or you could play as Moondog and go on side missions where you do things like fuck busty divorcees in the bathrooms of run-down movie theaters and gas stations while dabbing and doing rails. This wouldn’t necessarily accomplish anything, but it would be fun, for Moondog at least. Even as a character in a video game, Moondog is going to party, alright, alright, alright alright.
I’m not one for writing fan fiction but I would make an exception for an extremely well-written short story, novel or series of novels where the worlds of Serenity and The Beach Bum overlap in steamy and sordid ways. The Beach Bum continually teases what will happen when Moondog smokes special, sacred weed Lingerie is hoarding as the greatest natural high. How awesome and weird and fucked up would it be if this weed fucked Moondog up to the point where he thought he was a character in a video game about a dude trying to catch a tuna, kill an abusive monster and also have sex with the player’s femme fatale hot to trot mother?
Yes, The Beach Bum is the art house version of Up in Smoke and Surfer, Dude we never knew we needed. To be fair, we most assuredly do NOT need The Beach Bum. Indeed, it’s a movie cult movie lovers, Matthew McConaughey fans and stoners absolutely HAVE to see precisely because it’s so ragingly, perversely, intentionally and wonderfully inessential.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Secret Success
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