Caroline and I have invested/wasted time over the Thanksgiving holidays checking out two films and a flick. On Monday night, we watched an HBO documentary on the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and an experimental film called Notes on an Appearance, a slow-cut edited paean to stasis, directed by Ricky D’Ambrose, .
On the following evening, we watched the recent stoner film The Beach Bum directed by Harmony Korine and starring Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dog, Isla Fisher, and featuring Jimmy Buffett playing himself.
Here’s my amphetaminic spoiler-infused synopsis.
Moondog, the eponymous beach bum, is supposedly a genius poet, though the pap he recites isn’t even, strictly speaking, verse, much less poetry. Perpetually drunk and stoned, he divides his time cavorting with multiple sexual partners in Key West or at his obscenely rich wife’s mansion in Miami.
Despite being deemed loveable by a host of movie critics, including the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane, Moondog shows up late for his daughter’s wedding, strides up to the couple taking their vows, grabs the groom’s crotch to measure his manhood, and calls him “a limp dick.”
After the ceremony, Moondog and his wife (who has been having an affair with Snoop Dog’s character Lingerie) go for a drunken drive, crash the car, and Moondog ends up a widower cut out of his late wife’s will until he publishes a significant collection of poetry.
Pissed off at having his inheritance delayed and predicated on productivity, Moondog recruits a host of homeless people and trashes his daughter’s house (tee hee), which results in his going to rehab to avoid prison. At the rehab facility, he and an arsonist named Flick (get it?) become buddies. They escape in a golf cart that somehow outraces the pursuit.
Short of money, the unlovable rogues attack and rob an old man in a mechanical wheelchair, bringing to mind A Clockwork Orange, except in that movie brutalizing an old man managed to be funny, thanks to Alex’s “Singing in the Rain” routine, whereas in The Beach Bum the assault seems simply cruel.
Moondog and the Flick split ways, and our antihero takes up with Captain Wack, who charters a swim-with-the-dolphins business. With a family of tourists on board, including pre-pubescent children, Moondog spews vulgar sexual terms (the daughter actually puts her hands over her ears). Despite his love for dolphins, Captain Wack can’t distinguish them from sharks, dives in to model swimming with them, and loses a foot.
After copping some magic muse-like ganga from Jamaica, curtesy of Lingerie, Moondog writes what Wikipedia calls “a poetic memoir,” receives critical acclaim, and wins the Pulitzer. Now, he can receive his inheritance, 17 millionaire dollars in cash delivered in a freshly purchased yacht. Sailing off into the sunset, Moondog purposely sets fire to the money (which killjoy me thinks could have bought some food insecure children a Big Mac or two). The yacht explodes; some bills rain down about a party that has gathered to celebrate the occasion. Of course, Moondog escapes unscathed as he floats along in a dingy, one of Dionysius’s chosen.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I can love movies that thumb their cinematic noses/give double barrels to the establishment, movies like A Night at the Opera or Jean Vigot’s Zero for Conduct, and I’m okay with a dash of gratuitous sex, but as my wife Caroline so aptly put it, the entire movie is gratuitous.
What exactly is the point? Unlike Fellini’s The Satyricon, The Beach Bum isn’t mocking Late Empire extravagance or moral turpitude; it’s celebrating it, hence the presence of that Apostle of Hedonism, the venture capitalist Jimmy Buffet, who, I understand, is marketing “a string of Margaritaville retirement homes” where the bald and cellulite-ridden can bask in what remains of their days (and nights).
Wasting away in Margaritaville
Here’s a spiel for you golden-agers:
“It’s always been that happy place in your mind, the spirit of adventure in your soul. It’s the state of mind when it all comes together in one of life’s perfect moments. When your mind wanders to this paradise, why not follow it home?” reads the site. “We have heard your call… Minto Communities and Margaritaville welcome you to Latitude Margaritaville!… Inspired by the legendary music and lifestyle of singer, songwriter and best-selling author Jimmy Buffett, your new home in paradise features exciting recreation, unmatched dining and FINtastic nightlife. With Minto’s 60 years of experience developing award-winning, master-planned communities and building quality homes for over 80,000 families, innovative new homes are a given.”
Perhaps if Donald Trump weren’t president, I might have been less caustic in this review, but to me, Moondog is what Trump would be like as a stoner: vulgar, narcissistic, privileged, someone whose supposed “genius” gives him license to be a perpetual asshole. Although Moondog shares some characteristics with Jeff Spicoli of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Dude of The Great Lebowski, he, unlike those sympathetic characters, is arrogant, entitled, not in the least bit clever.
That said, he only harms himself, his family, and the occasional wheelchair bound Boomer. I just happen to find Barabas of Marlowe’s farce The Jew of Malta to be much more of a hoot.
FRIAR BARNARDINE. Thou hast committed—
BARABAS. Fornication: but that was in another country;
And besides, the wench is dead.
 Charleston’s own The City Paper pegs the plot as “hilarious misadventures” and rogerebert.com calls it a “funny, ultimately sweet movie.”
 Several times this not yet published collection of words is referred to as a novel, though what we get at the end is a Pulitzer winning collection of poems. It’s almost as if the screenwriter, Mr. Korine, doesn’t know the difference.
 Okay, no doubt a fan of the film will note that this is a farce, that the shark fins are cardboard, that it’s not supposed to be realistic, to which I say, Moondog-style, fuck off.