The film that exists around Moondog the poet is of roles that he’s variably more suited for. He’s a solid ex-husband to the wealthy Minnie (Isla Fisher), such that she’s always happy to see him when he strolls into her seaside mansion. Moondog seems to be a great friend to rapper Lingerie (Snoop Dogg, also not stretching himself), a friendship that comes with plenty of cannibis-related benefits. What he chafes against is any relationship, human or otherwise, that obligates him to not act in a hedonistic way. He rejects his daughter’s fiance because he’s too uptight for the spawn of Moondog, as evidenced by his discomfort when he gropes said fiance’s crotch during the wedding. He writes when he feels like it, and certainly not at the direction of his manager, played by Jonah Hill. When he comes into a great deal of money that has certain strings attached, he reacts in the most childish way imaginable, subsequently landing in court-enforced rehab from which he quickly escapes. Moondog is the panhandler who, through sheer lackadaisical charisma, makes one feel bad for not giving him money. He is the personification of entitlement, such that he feels the world owes him nothing but good experiences, in an inoffensive package.
McConaughey, fearless and game for anything in the role, is perhaps the only actor who could play Moondog, and he does so with aplomb. There’s a genderqueer reading of the film as Moondog often wears dresses, but that seems first about comfort. They aren’t the kind of dresses that fit his form. He apparently swapped out the mountains of fake weed on set with real weed, and I have no doubt some of him being actually high made it into the film though I couldn’t say which parts were which. On his adventures, he runs into Zac Efron’s straight-edge/methhead psychopath and Martin Lawrence as a half-assed ocean tour guide. Both actors are doing great physical comedy, with Efron in a version of Korrine’s Spring Breakers and Lawrence in a Stooges-esque farce. On the opposite is Hill, an actor I’ve never hated in a film until now. He feels compelled to do a Foghorn Leghorn accent that breaks the film when he’s onscreen. The line that The Beach Bum is walking, where hedonists keep falling into money and opportunity, needs to keep the viewer at least engaged with the characters so they can ignore all the luck and privilege. Hill is so despicable that he makes the viewer start to hate Moondog for associating with him.
Korinne is always a hard director to pin down, and while The Beach Bum might simply be an excuse to get high with McConaughey, there’s something here between whisps of weed/meth smoke. Characters make allusions to climate change, a phenomenon that will drown Moondog’s playground within his lifetime (this is the kind of Keith Richards-type who will live into their second century). As another character says, some would say sacrifice and pain are the key to great art, but Moondog would say the opposite. The pain will come at some later date, and in the meantime, The Beach Bum wants to make hay while the sun’s shining. Maybe his terrible poetry will outlast environmental catastrophe, but he won’t care either way. B