Melissa B. Miller Costanzo‘s new feature, the romantic comedy The List, starring Halston Sage and Christian Navarro, is out now on VOD through Universal Pictures. Her first feature as a writer-director, All These Small Moments, starring Molly Ringwald, Brian d’Arcy James and Jemima Kirke, came out theatrically in 2019. Working in the art department on such award winning films as Indignation, The Fighter, and Precious, she developed an eye for detail and a perspective defined by experience. Her first feature as a producer was The Tested, starring Aunjanue Ellis, which was accepted to the prestigious IFP Independent Filmmaker Lab and Emerging Narratives at IFP Film Week and took home the top prize at the American Black Film Festival.
I’m not sure if I can fully explain my relationship with Harmony Korine. I don’t know him personally, but I feel like I do.
I had just turned 20 when Kids came out, and although Korine wasn’t the director (although, I kinda always think he is), it was the first time I was exposed to something so raw and real. He had such a distinct voice at such a young age.
Then came Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy, which just weren’t for me. But they were so specific and so dialed in to what they were. Both those movies – and I think, subsequently, all of his films – have such commitment.
In 2013, Korine made Spring Breakers, which was just on another level. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say The Beach Bum is a companion piece to that movie. It’s where this whole Jimmy Buffett (yes, he’s in The Beach Bum), Key West, Florida-living lifestyle started.
So how do I describe The Beach Bum in one sentence? The logline on IMDb says, “A rebellious stoner named Moondog lives life by his own rules.” That is certainly true. But it’s so much more than that. Matthew McConaughey plays the title character with such loving (and cross-dressing!) devotion, and his supporting cast is sublime. From Jonah Hill playing the best caricature of a caricature of a loathsome agent, to Isla Fisher playing her best filthy rich, sex-obsessed, cleavage-bearing heiress, to Martin Lawrence, who loses a limb over his love of whales (let’s talk after you’ve seen the movie). The hits just keep coming.
The Beach Bum was, I think, a welcome shift for my mom and I. The previous movies we saw for this column were two award-season biopics, first Bohemian Rhapsody and then Can You Ever Forgive Me? We must have missed the exit for Green Book and wound up here. The cinematic equivalent of off-roading, if you will. But I think we are both worldlier because of it!
Melissa: I think I just watched the feel-good movie of 2019.
Mom: Were we watching the same movie?
Melissa: C’mon, you didn’t get caught up in any of it?
Melissa: None of it?
Mom: I thought Snoop Dogg was funny.
Melissa: Damn straight, he was! I actually thought the whole cast was amazing! I think the beauty of directors like Harmony Korine is that they give actors the opportunity to just go wild. To get out of their comfort zone and wear crazy outfits and live out some wild fantasy.
Mom: Or, in the case of Matthew McConaughey, stay in his comfort zone.
Melissa: Yeah, he definitely seemed to stay in his lane for this one. But makes you wonder, right? This persona? How real is it? I mean, it started with Dazed and Confused and it kind of stuck.
Mom: I think of him as the guy in the car commercials.
Melissa: Will the real Matthew McConaughey please stand up! Do you know anything about Harmony Korine?
Mom: Not really. But he’s really respected in your industry, right?
Melissa: Yes, definitely. I actually think his work has progressed; I don’t know if that’s the word. “Matured”? “Elevated”?
Mom: Do you like him as a director?
Melissa: I certainly do now. I mean, he’s my generation – he wrote Kids, which was huge for so many of us who wanted to be filmmakers, but then there was the era of Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy, and he lost me. I will say though, he’s brilliant at creating worlds.
Mom: Yeah, everyone in this movie felt so authentic. I live in Florida; it’s certainly not my world, but I see it. Just walking on the boardwalk, the characters you see.
Melissa: I want to get back to the casting for a second. I mean Isla Fisher and Jonah Hill? Revelations!
Mom: If you say so.
Melissa: I mean, I kinda felt Jonah Hill was channeling Kevin Costner in JFK. Did you ever see that movie?
Mom: I don’t think so.
Melissa: It’s an Oliver Stone film – it’s a real masterpiece. I quote from it all the time.
Mom: Are you going to put that on my homework list.
Melissa: Homework? Is that what you think this is?
Mom: No, honey, I was just joking.
Melissa: What else did you think?
Mom: I thought the costumes were amazing and McConaughey’s transition to wearing dresses was really seamless.
Melissa: Ha, I know! He was a natural.
Mom: It’s certainly not my type of movie, but I think I admired the spirit of it. The freedom.
Melissa: I totally agree. I left the theater totally inspired, like I could take on anything.
Mom: If Moondog could win a Pulitzer, then so could you?
Melissa: I mean, of course that was a little far-fetched, but maybe for him it wasn’t. I also just love the excess of it all. It was sort of like one long, extended music video, but I loved taking the ride.
Mom: McConaughey should design a line of men’s thong bathing suits.
Melissa: Oh my God, he totally should! You are brilliant. McConaughey’s Banana Hammocks.
Mom: Banana hammock?
Melissa: Think about it. He probably already has something in the works.
Mom: You are probably right.
Melissa: We can look it up after we finish talking. Korine just engrained us so much in this world.
Mom: Yes, it almost felt like a documentary.
Melissa: Yes, I think you are right, and it was because of the shooting style. I felt I was right there with him. There was just such commitment from everyone. From Korine, of course, but also the costumes, hair and makeup, the D.P., the production designer.
Mom: Yes, it felt very cohesive throughout. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I liked the music, too. I thought it was appropriate and also brought a good rhythm and pace to the movie.
Melissa: Oh yeah, I was totally singing the Moondog theme song on my way out of the theater. I wish you had a reference point for Harmony Korine to see how his work has developed. He’s gotten bigger budgets, but I really think his aesthetic has stayed the same. He seems to just love eccentric people.
Mom: Is he eccentric?
Melissa: I think it’s safe to say he’s become more grounded as of late. What about the end? How did it make you feel?
Mom: I mean, he’s nuts for burning the money.
Melissa: Spoiler alert!
Mom: Oh sorry. He started off his rocker and he ended off his rocker.
Melissa: Nicely put. It was hard for me because Moondog, for whatever reason, was a total inspiration to me. Which is weird, of course, because he was a mess. But something about his ability to just embrace life was wonderful to me – and just how he had this talent in him that no booze, or drugs, or – excuse me, Mom – boobs could get in the way of.
Mom: And the relationship with his wife – totally crazy, but it worked for them.
Melissa: Right! Like, we could all learn a thing or two about acceptance from them!
Mom: So did it bother you that he burned the money?
Melissa: I mean, of course, that was just lunacy.
Mom: He was a lunatic poet.
Melissa: Wow. With that line, he may not be the only poet. I think that’s a great place to stop. Mom, thanks for seeing this crazy movie with me.
Mom: You’re welcome, honey.