In 2012, Harmony Korine, the patron saint of weird film, defied nearly every expectation of him: He wrote and directed a mainstream movie. Centered around a party-hearty quartet of college students in neon bikinis who fall under the sway of a be-grilled drug dealer named Alien (James Franco), the artsploitation crime romp Spring Breakers rode a wave of word-of-mouth popularity. Reportedly costing just $5 million, the Florida-set thriller grossed $31 million worldwide — a huge score for its then-nascent distributor A24 — spurring a For Your Consideration Oscar campaign for Franco in 2013, and coming to rank in the BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century.
Up until then, Korine was known for art-house movies like Julien Donkey-Boy (about a man struggling with untreated schizophrenia), Gummo (an improvisational comedy-fantasy of Rust Belt poverty and moral decay), Trash Humpers (about people who have sexual encounters with garbage), and the legendary lost film Fight Harm (which stars Korine himself, apparently inebriated, successfully attempting to goad passersby into fist-fighting him). After Spring Breakers’ game-changing success, Korine set his sights on The Trap, a gritty Jamie Foxx/Benicio Del Toro project. Tragically, it fell apart after years in development at Annapurna Films. Korine temporarily turned his back on Hollywood as a result, moved to Miami, and started painting abstract canvases full-time.
And that’s when The Beach Bum was born. Korine’s newfound fascination with the houseboat lifestyle of the Florida Keys combined with his love of Cheech & Chong movies and a vision of America he describes as “cosmic.” The filmmaker’s fifth feature as a writer-director (he burst onto the independent movie scene as writer of the incendiary 1995 skater drama Kids) stars Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a Ferrari-driving stoner poet who marches to the beat of his own bongos, spouting faux profundities under a constant fog of smoke and PBR foam. The episodic comedy-drama is stacked with outlandish performances: Jonah Hill sporting a swamp-thick Cajunish accent as Moondog’s hectoring literary agent; Zac Efron as a hard-vaping, Christian-metal-loving patient at the same rehab facility as Moondog; and Isla Fisher as our protagonist’s fabulously rich but less than faithful wife, Minnie. Snoop Dogg portrays her lover, a slick R&B singer named Lingerie. Oh, and Jimmy Buffett and Martin Lawrence show up, too.
At an upscale West Hollywood hotel, Korine blazed on an inch-long cigar stogie — comically at odds with our posh surroundings — and discussed his surprisingly joyful but unsurprisingly absurd new movie. Here, the director breaks down four of The Beach Bum’s most unhinged scenes:
Jimmy Buffett and Snoop Dogg’s Yacht Duet
Korine says watching The Trap fall apart was brutal. Intended to be the polar opposite of The Beach Bum, he describes the movie-that-never-was as “a very violent revenge film” with an energy that was “so intense that I just couldn’t maintain it. That’s where I was like, ‘I want to make something that’s the opposite. Something that’s more of a Jimmy Buffett ballad gone bad. Like a Jimmy Buffett ballad that’s derailed.’”
Buffett serves as more than just tonal inspiration for The Beach Bum. The human embodiment of checked-out culture actually appears in the movie as a member of Moondog’s assembly of “really iconic, mythic stoners,” as Korine describes them. “I just love him,” Korine says of Buffett, who ends up playing himself in the film. “He’s a good friend of mine. I love that he’s a guy that’s created an entire world based on some music. He’s created this fantasy, this beautiful fantasy for people … ‘I’m going to enjoy the sunset. I’m here for a microsecond and I’m not going to give in to it. I’m not going to give in to the machine.’”
Among the mythic stoners is another familiar musician: Snoop Dogg. The rapper was originally cast to play himself, but he had other ideas. “I don’t want to play Snoop. I want to play a guy named Lingerie,” Korine recalls Snoop Dogg telling him. “‘You could call me Ray, but I want to be called Lingerie, and I want to be an R&B singer.” “Why?” Korine asked. “Because I’m smooth and silky as a motherfucker,” Snoop Dogg replied.
The friendship between Buffett’s Beach Bum persona (more or less exactly what you’d expect from the mayor of Margaritaville, with a bit more smoking, profanity, and nude women thrown into the mix) and Lingerie (more or less exactly what you’d expect from Snoop Dogg) culminates in one of the movie’s best scenes: a song/rap dedicated to Moondog and performed on the deck of Lingerie’s multimillion-dollar yacht alongside a coterie of mostly naked onlookers. “Lookin’ for the Moondog / Lookin’ through the moon fog,” they alternate crooning to McConaughey’s eternally chill-with-it character.
“In the script, it says they play a song together called ‘Moon Fog,’ and I had probably written like one or two lines or something of the song,” Korine says. “Then when we got there, they had already been working on their own version of it. Before I got there, they had just started riffing together, and really, really kind of just made it. It became their thing.”
The Toe-Smoking Scene
When it comes to improvisation in his films, Korine prefers to refer to of-the-moment acting decisions as “riffing.” “It’s like, the script is written up to a certain point,” he says. “You created an environment for the actors where anything can happen within that, and then you encourage it to go into some other place.”
One such place was between Isla Fisher’s toes. While shooting an intimate couch interaction between Moondog and his wife, the fabulously wealthy heiress Minnie, McConaughey opted to use his co-star’s foot as a perch for his joint. Onscreen, the actor situates the doobie between Fisher’s toes, takes a deep drag, and proceeds to sloppily suck her appendages. The choreography wasn’t exactly planned. “I think that was just like … it happened very naturally,” Korine remembers. “We were just filming, and her feet were up in his face. And then he just did what Moondog would do, and he sticks the joint in her toes and starts sucking it. When everyone starts cracking up, you know it’s good.”
“Yeah, I don’t think she was ready for it,” Korine guesses of Fisher’s reaction. Toe joints or not, almost every scene in The Beach Bum is clouded in some degree of smoke. “The characters in the film, most of them, especially Moon, are high the entire movie,” Korine explains. “Or have to be, to some degree, there. Buzz is on in some way. Obviously [the actors themselves] can’t do that … they would never be able to function, so a lot of it’s acting.”
In other words, Korine’s production team had to order a lot of prop weed. But there were exceptions. “I wasn’t really focused so much on what everyone was smoking,” Korine admits when I ask if Snoop and Jimmy Buffett enjoyed the real deal on set. “I just knew that it was a lot of smoke. There were some scenes when they go in the weed room — the hydroponic room. We were shooting there all night and Snoop was just going at it. At one point I did feel myself like … my soul coming out of my body. I did. I looked at the [cinematographer] and was like, ‘Are you floating?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, I think I’m floating.’”
A CGI “Dolphin” Attack
How’d Martin Lawrence, whose last movie credit is 2011’s Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, end up in The Beach Bum? More precisely, how did he come to play Captain Wack, a dolphin-tour guide and self-proclaimed Vietnam veteran who never saw combat — or went to Vietnam — but still carries shrapnel in his testicles and keeps a cocaine-addicted parrot as a pet?
“I just loved him,” Korine says. “I used to love that show Martin. Loved him in Bad Boys, and I was an even bigger fan of his stand-up. You know, I’d always been thinking over the last couple years, I was like, Where is he? I kind of liked that he had kind of dropped out for a little bit. So it was like a dream. If I could get anyone to play this, who would it be? I really didn’t know him. It was a shot in the dark. We reached out and he read it, and then I got a call: He was down. When I started talking to him on the phone, he was like, ‘The only thing I don’t want to do is have a parrot on my shoulder.’ Originally, he was supposed to have a live parrot on his shoulder the whole time.”
Lawrence’s scene involved zero live parrots on his shoulder and zero live sharks in the water. The fins audiences see circling the comedian after he ventures into open water for a solo swim — which he mistakes for signs of friendly dolphins — are the result of CGI. “Yeah, it was trippy,” Korine says of shooting the scene. “We spent all day — my daughter was in that scene. She was the girl in the boat … Martin would stare out at the ocean, and I could tell he didn’t want to jump in. I knew he wasn’t looking forward to it, but he was so committed to it. He did a bunch for us because obviously that scene has a lot of special effects.”
Korine is so enamored with Lawrence that he’s considering, jokingly or not, spinning off the character for a Captain Wack movie. “That sequence is so amazing and Martin is so great,” Korine says. “I have already thought it up. I have already, like, a movie about the world’s worst dolphin-tour guide. A guy, Captain Wack, a man who lives on a houseboat and has a coke-addicted parrot. It writes itself.”
Blowing the Shit out of a Boat
Without revealing a key plot twist, one of The Beach Bum’s concluding scenes involves a yacht being blown to smithereens in a fiery explosion — certainly a more visually ambitious and technically complicated sequence than anything the filmmaker committed to screen in Gummo or Julien Donkey-Boy. Still, Korine insists he didn’t feel out of his element working with stunt coordinators and second-unit directors or embracing his inner Michael Bay. “I had played around with things. Not like that — but maybe things in it. When I’ve been advertising there are certain things that I’ve done, more like, ‘Ahhh! I feel like I can do this, in a way, incorporated into a film technically.’ Then you just work with good people, effects guys. I storyboard the whole sequence so we kind of like … you know, we knew.”
So you really blew up a boat? I ask. “Blew the shit out of that bitch,” Korine confirms.