The movies of Harmony Korine -- his last and best known was 2012's Spring Breakers -- have always felt like trips. The director prides himself on making films with intense, strange, and sometimes graphic and sexual imagery, and nonlinear narratives where anything goes, as long as it's fittingly bizarre. He's the kind of auteur who puts David Blaine and Werner Herzog in the same movie, and whose work has been lauded by stoners and Lars Von Trier alike.
His new movie, The Beach Bum, flits in and out of the life of one Moondog (Matthew McConaughey, in the sweaty, blissed-out role of his life), a one-time best-selling soul poet married to a ridiculously rich heiress (Isla Fisher) who seems to have become a bit too comfortable with his devil-may-care life amongst the bums and street prophets of the Florida Keys. Moondog divides his time between his wife's palatial mansion and a remote island shack, playing at being destitute while actually possessing a huge fortune through his rich wife. The movie never criticizes Moondog for this, though -- that's not the point. Moondog's carefree spirit won't be held down by money and responsibilities, and every weird, unearthly person in his life actually encourages this grand illusion he's created for himself. He smokes and drinks and recites poems and has tons of sex with nameless, dreamy-eyed women, and returns to his actual family's world only to hand his daughter off to a man he's not exactly wild about (and refers to only as Limp Dick). And yet, in true carefree stoner fashion, it's all chill, my dudes -- until something happens that alters the course of his and his family's life.
I won't spoil exactly what that thing is, since it really is a shock that feels at odds with the otherwise freewheeling yarn the movie seems to promise, but it's one of the film's few (welcome!) moments of absolute, crystal clarity. Afterward, Moondog is forced to enter into rehab and complete his next book of poetry if he wants to see a dime of his family's fortune. And he does end up going straight... for about 48 hours.