Provocative Pot Use Meets the Absurd in ‘The Beach Bum’
An upcoming film from Harmony Korine has the potential to enter into the marijuana comedy canon.
The world does not lack for stoner comedies, but every once in a while one comes along that takes a place in the canon alongside films like “The Big Lebowski,” Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke” and “Half Baked.” We’re hoping “The Beach Bum” can join their ranks.
Let’s start with the cast. It’s led by Matthew McConaughey, whose drawl is more commonly associated with serious roles in “Dallas Buyers Club” and “A Time to Kill” or heady action movies like “Interstellar.” Just his presence gives “The Beach Bum” a gravitas that films like “How High” or “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” make no attempt at. The weight of McConaughey’s stardom gives the film something to play off of and helps its goofier, more absurd elements pop a little extra. This is further exacerbated by the mere presence of one of McConaughey’s costars, Snoop Dogg. In addition to his unique charm, Snoop did what he could to make sure the movie will be a true cannabis comedy classic.
“I got Snooped!” McConaughey told Jimmy Kimmel on his late-night talk show. “I went to the prop man and made sure we had prop weed, not real weed. We did a six-minute scene, passing [a joint] back and forth, and then Snoop says, ‘Hey Moondog [McConaughey’s character], that ain’t prop weed. That’s Snoop weed.’ The next nine hours were a lot of fun, but I don’t think he used one word in the English language.”
The film follows the episodic travails of Moondog, a writer in the midst of writer’s block (hence the need for some Snoop weed). At stake is a share of the fortune of his rich spouse, played by Isla Fischer. His quest for inspiration leads to adventures with Jimmy Buffett, a dolphin-obsessed sea captain played by Martin Lawrence, and an insane-looking Zac Efron, whose hair falls somewhere between pompadour and lion’s mane on top, with Venetian-blind stripes down through the sideburns.
The film’s director, Harmony Korine, is known for his darker works, namely “Kids” and “Spring Breakers,” that have focused on exploring the lows that people can sink to. “The Beach Bum” is more lighthearted. He’s even floated — dare we say wafted — the idea of showing his film in “Smell-O-Vision” theaters in states where cannabis is legal. These would be screenings with cannabis in the air, and presumably, it wouldn’t be prop weed.
Here’s how Korine explained his multimodal concept to a French culture magazine: “I would very much like to see the film, when it’s released, be shown in rooms that spread curls of marijuana [smoke]. It is possible in some states, such as California, that have legalized this drug for [medical use]. We already have about thirty rooms that have accepted.”
With the theater experience increasingly competing with the twin pressures of home flat screens and streaming services, Korine’s idea could be a unique draw to coax people out of the house. Whether or not the Smell-O-Vision comes to pass, Korine’s concept brings up the notion that public, communal cannabis consumption is now possible in a way it wasn’t before in the states that have legalized. While stoner culture has generally been siloed away from the mainstream, it will be interesting to see if that remains the case over time as legal consumption becomes normalized. Films like “The Beach Bum” are guaranteed to draw in a slice of the normal movie-going audience simply because of the cast, potentially making it a crossover stoner movie, and Korine’s hotboxed movie theater idea is one way in which cannabis can become both something enjoyed among friends, but also, like alcohol and coffee, a substance enjoyed in public, among strangers, without furtiveness or shame.
Korine is a boundary pusher and he encourages the actors he works with to get outlandish and weird. The iconic example of this is James Franco’s over-the-top, grotesque performance in “Spring Breakers” as Alien, a drug dealer obsessed with material wealth. We will have to see if anyone from “The Beach Bum” captures the public’s attention the way Franco did, but there will be some contenders. In addition to McConaughey himself, Efron may turn a few heads as a rehab patient whose motto is “Jesus already died for our sins,” as might the dolphin-obsessed Lawrence, or Jonah Hill, who trades his standard funny sidekick role for one driven by a thick Cajun accent.
Korine is interested in excess, but in the stoner comedy, he seems to have found an outlet for a goofier form of excess than his previous works. This fits both the genre and the plant it derives from. Movies with a substance at their center tend to go down predictable paths. While there are a few alcohol-focused comedies (“The Hangover” series comes to mind), excessive alcohol in movies tends to follow the depravity it leads to in real life. The stoner comedy plays up the stereotypes around unreliableness and forgetfulness, but not the inevitably darker turns that come with most harder drugs. With the comedy centered around marijuana, excess can be outlandish and absurd, but ultimately — harmless.
TELL US, what’s your favorite pot-focused movie?
Originally published in Issue 33 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE