Harmony Korine’s new cosmic stoner comedy The Beach Bum is a neon cocktail of colors, a true margarita of the senses, the answer to the question: What about Matthew McConaughey, but bonkers? I watched this movie at 2:05 on a Monday in the top row of the tranquil Pasadena ArcLight with about seven other people scattered throughout the theater AND BECAME NEW.
It’s going to take the next several years for me to be able to put into words how I feel about Matty’s performance in this thing. For now, others need discussing. Because The Beach Bum was made with high-quality ingredients at a price you can afford. That last part, of course, is a lie. Movies haven’t been affordable in, what, a decade? I went and saw Us the other night at the Universal Cinema AMC at CityWalk Hollywood AT&T Snickers Coca-Cola Pepsi Dunkaroos Band-Aid Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. The Build-A-Bear stuffing was like snow there. I thought about walking into a Lids but then I didn’t. The ticket cost $19.45. I could get so many nuggets from Wendy’s with that amount of money. I almost typed that it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get cheaper any time soon, and how much it will suck when, a decade from now, we look back on this $19.45 era the way we look at the $8 era now. The reason I didn’t type it is because I know absolutely nothing and don’t have the intelligence or, frankly, willpower to do a bunch of research and find out whether that’s true or not.
What follows is a definitive ranking of some of the supporting characters in Harmony Korine’s hot pink ode to weed, poetry, and trying as hard as you possibly can to feel good, every moment of every day, no matter what, until God kills you.
These are the rankings as I see them today. As an American, I reserve every right to change my opinion for no reason whatsoever other than just feeling like it. The feelings I feel for this film will only grow and evolve over time. This movie will age like Pharrell.
Sometimes I think about performances. What a stupid sentence. What I mean to say is that—and it is my deepest hope that this makes sense—did you ever see Orson Welles in The Long, Hot Summer? Or Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Nocturnal Animals? They were chewing scenery to the point I was out of breath for them. But look: They didn’t come within a million miles of the cast of The Beach Bum. These people weren’t just chewing scenery. They were chewing it, swallowing it, digesting it, dropping their pants and pooping it out—only the poop was like diamonds and, you know, it didn’t smell bad. It was like watching two lit matchbooks—these are fully conscious beings you’ll want to think of as following in the tradition of the animation aesthetic laid out in something like Beauty and the Beast, but I have gotten too far from the point and need to stop and start again. The Beach Bum was like watching two lit matchbooks tango in a room full of black cats. At one point, Moondog (McConaughey) tells a woman, “You got a lot of great things going on on your b-o-d-y.” At another point, he says to his lawyer, “I write poetry you little bitch.”
What more do you want out of a movie? On to the rankings. Counting down ...
5. Lewis (Jonah Hill)
This character is one of the weirdest things that I’ve seen in a long time. He’s a literary agent named Lewis. He sounds like a congested Foghorn Leghorn but says things like “You was acting like a little fuccboi for a minute.” You’ve heard of playing to the back row. Jonah Hill was playing to the back of the galaxy. At one point in the movie he licked an ice cream cone with a delicateness I did not know he possessed, and with the sweet treat on his tongue he tried as hard as he possibly could to say the word “Pulitzer” with a Southern accent. Lewis, drunk, screaming “My phone was dead. I had a funeral for the motherfucker.” Lewis, drunk, screaming, “I been waiting for ages and I’m not getting no pages.” Lewis, drunk, screaming, “I have real clients up for literary awards. I’m sending faxes in my office.” It’s like a caricature of a caricature of a caricature. And Hill projects silliness and nonsense for most of the way, until, remarkably, a swerve. Here’s Lewis, to Moondog, as the sun goes down:
I had a lot in my life, but I always had this feeling like when I left, no one gon’ remember me. But knowing you, being a part of what you did, maybe that means something now. I wanna thank you.
It’s one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in years.
4. Lingerie (Snoop Dogg)
An R&B singer and also Moondog’s neighbor, Lingerie has known the family for years and has been a great friend to them. He likes to eat Fruit Loops out of Jethro Bodine–sized cereal bowls, is an excellent appreciator of really well done disguises, and smokes joints the size of batons. In one scene, he and Moondog stand near the water with the lights of Miami behind them. They take bong rips and watch fireworks. Moondog quotes some D.H. Lawrence, lies, and says he wrote it. Lingerie begins to cry. Moondog tells him he was lying about having written it, then tells a story about plagiarizing the poem to win a seventh-grade poetry contest. I won a poetry contest once when I was in the fifth grade. I think? It was for Veterans Day. I wore a full Adidas sweatsuit to Fort Gibson National Cemetery and read it in front of a couple of handfuls of people. I remember having to pee very badly.
These are some of the nicknames Matthew McConaughey has for Lingerie:
- Mr. Ray
- Lingerie Doggy Dogg
- Lingerie Romano
- Lingerie Felton
- Lingerie from the new Star Wars movies
Those last three are made up. Those are my nicknames for Lingerie. Ultimately, he confesses to Moondog that he’s had an affair with his wife, Minnie. He says, “She didn’t love me. She loved my sex but she didn’t love me. I was just the R&B singer with the big dick.” In another sequence, he and Jimmy Buffett, surrounded by women in little to no clothing, give Moondog advice on what his next move should be. Moondog’s a wanted man. Snoop wants to help. It’s the best he’s been since Training Day.
3. Minnie (Isla Fisher)
Isla Fisher is one of the greatest performers in film history. Are we absolutely certain there’s something she can’t do? I’ve seen no evidence that she’s capable of being bad in something. Is there a more underrated actress? A more likable one? Her performance in Definitely, Maybe is a revelation. Nay, it is Revelations, because how do you follow that?
We meet Minnie when she’s talking to her husband, Moondog, on the phone. He calls her Minnie Boo. She has him on speaker. She’s on a balcony, at their Miami palazzo, wearing mint-colored lingerie, quietly flirting with Lingerie. There’s a titular joke to be made around here somewhere but I am exhausted and just want to move on to other things.
It’s the details with Fisher, the subtleties. While she’s talking to Moondog, she’s also using the phone screen as a mirror, teasing her hair, watching herself smile and talk. When Moondog comes up from the Florida Keys and back to their Miami home, she meets him at the water. He’s excited to see her.
“You have to woo me,” she says.
“Oh, woo doo doo,” he says.
There’s a scene in the movie when, at her daughter’s wedding, she kisses Lingerie. They make out on the dock under stars and bursting fireworks. It’s a pop song of a moment. You’ve seen Moondog cheat on her multiple times within the first five minutes of the movie. She’s having her good time. You’re happy about it.
In one of the best sequences in the movie, Minnie and Moondog go down to the docks and dance. She’s in a dress the color of a bellflower and Moondog has, over his shoulder, a portable amp that looks like a Lite-Brite. He plays Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” and they twirl around and flirt and peacock—two deeply strange people, dancing on their daughter’s wedding night, in love, and thrilled about it.
There are Daisy-Gatsby vibes to be had here. Reckless driving in fast, beautiful cars. The house by the water. The neighbors being friends. Two men wanting the same woman. The wild fashion. The endless money. Excessive parties, bacchanals nobody wants to end.
Once, for a brief moment, Moondog and Minnie sit in a hallway and smoke. The walls are green. So is the air.
2. Flicker (Zac Efron)
The world will one day burn. Maybe only a few survive and it will be up to them to preserve Earth’s artistic history. Something in the vein of Denzel, in a room, at Alcatraz, dictating the Bible at the end of The Book of Eli. When that day comes and the skies rain ash and the only thing left to do is pick up the pieces of society and try to start again, you have to believe Scott Stapp’s story about T.I. saving his life will be in the mix somewhere. I type “Scott Stapp” all casually like that because I’m treating you with respect and not dumbing down my speech to make things easier for you. Yes. That Scott Stapp. The lead singer of the rock band, Creed. I’ll throw it to Scott:
Moondog meets Flicker in rehab. Flicker loves Creed. He used to be in a cover band that played “Can You Take Me Higher?” He wears JNCOs and has a Bluetooth headset hooked to his ear, and he wears sunglasses and his beard has lines in it that make it look both like tiger stripes and as if his face has been grilled. He vapes constantly. He wears Ed Hardy shirts. His dad’s a pastor. On the back of one of his (I have to assume) many vests are the words “Satan’s Dead.” The JNCOs were too prominent—too striking, too grand—to have been able to verify this, but from what it looked like, he would also sometimes wear Heelys.
One of the first things we hear Flicker say is, “I love lighting shit on fire.” Like the rest of the cast, this is Zac Efron swinging for the moon and instead hitting that shit to Saturn. There’s something inspiring about high-quality commitment to absurdity. To not wink. To just go full bore every moment and sell the character without trying to be ironic about it. At one point, Flicker and Moondog come upon a wedding at a beautiful house down near the ocean. Flicker pushes the groom off the dock and into the water. They steal a boat. They drive around in the Miami night talking about God and drinking tall boys of PBR.
The English Standard Version of 1 Corinthians 10:23 says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” Flicker has never read that verse. Here are some of the things he says:
- “We take Jesus and we just ride him to the top.”
- “We can do whatever we want. Jesus already paid for our sins.”
- “Old men wither away and die in the sands of time.”
- “Christ already paid for all our fucking sins.”
There’s a moment inside the cabin of a boat when Efron dances shirtless in a ninja headband. He takes incessant rips off a vape, gives you and yours a peek at the six-pack. Before Flicker and Moondog part, one of the last things he tells Moondog is, “For real, though. You got God on your shoulder.” We leave him on the deck of the boat with a bottle in his hand. The sun has started to fade and the sky is golden and orange, and Flicker leans on the rail at the edge of the deck, clutching his vape like it’s his child; a prodigal son not quite ready to return home.
1. Captain Wack (Martin Lawrence)
Captain Wack, The World’s Worst Dolphin Tour Guide, dresses like a sea captain. He drives a boat named Success. He has a cocaine-addicted parrot. He thinks sharks are dolphins. He has shrapnel in his nutsack. It makes him walk with a limp. He first fell in love with dolphins while watching Flipper. He keeps a stogie on his person at all times. He will fry you up an octopus and tell you stories of the deep. Here’s 55 seconds of him:
If he was in this movie only for those 55 seconds, that would be enough. But he’s in it more. So much more. Give this man bright and shiny things. Trophies and awards and plaques and medals and ribbons and pearls. Words like star power and charisma and magnetism get thrown around too often when people talk about actors, but I swear on everything I love, you will not stop having a great time when Martin Lawrence is on the screen. You’re just so glad he’s there. We need more of him. He hasn’t lost a step. Still light on his feet, something like a dancer, something like a P.E. teacher. He’s having a ball, too. Some of his lines are wild:
- “If they really wanna see the dolphin, you hear it in their voice.”
- “It’s orgy season, so hopefully we get to see something. Some real wild stuff.”
- (Talking about dolphins) “They don’t want to hurt you. They just want to love you.”
- (Talking about his vehicle that uses orange construction fencing for doors) “I wouldn’t have all this if not for dolphin touring.”
- (Talking about himself) “You will get whacked. Fucking with. Cap. Wack.”
The best of Captain Wack you’ve already heard in the video above, but there’s something about seeing the words laid out on a page that makes you appreciate the artistry even more. I’ve added Moondog’s brief responses to the mix. An old teacher of mine once told a class I was in that we were five times more likely to remember something if we wrote it down. It’s my hope to be able to quote all of this on command one day. The masterpiece exchange:
“Only had four deaths on my watch,” says Captain Wack.
“Only four?” Moondog asks.
“Four deaths in over eight straight years of dolphin touring is a terrific record. Now, I’ve been stripped of my license temporarily on five separate occasions, but each time I get it reinstated due to a technicality I’ve never quite understood! It’s beyond luck or karma, man! I’m blessed up, bruh!”
“Meant to be.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen many in this industry. They fucks with ole Captain Wack around these parts!”
Some of those line readings are miracles. I think the word to describe him is gleeful? I doubt this is anywhere near an original idea, but there should be a Rotten Tomatoes for characters in movies and TV shows. Captain Wack would be one of the few 100 percent ratings we have. There’s always been a musicality to Lawrence’s performances—it’s like he’s bouncing, playing with different levels of intensity, bravado, vulnerability. What made this character so fun was how joyful he was. Korine’s said he wouldn’t be against the idea of a sequel to The Beach Bum that focuses on Captain Wack. I pledge allegiance to that idea. I create a religion based on it. We have T-shirts for sale at the back. They’re $7. On the front is a foot with a circle around it and a line through it. On the back is another of Wack’s lines: “I’m still banging.”
In the end of The Beach Bum it’s the end of a world. Fire rains from a black sky and no one’s afraid. The light’s on their faces. Their faces are smiling. They run toward the fire, call out to the flames, try like mad to touch them.