The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

January 20, 2014

Jeremiah Tucker: McConaughey compelling after mid-'00s slump

JOPLIN, Mo. — I've always loved Matthew McConaughey.

I thought of this while watching the ponderous but engrossing new HBO crime series "True Detective" in which McConaughey, as a falling-apart-at-the-seams homicide detective, quietly bends every scene he's in around him. (I'll eventually get back to writing about music here. But allow me to extoll the virtues of McConaughey this week.)

After a decade of starring in mostly terrible romantic comedies, McConaughey -- like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a dorm-room bong -- is in the middle of what has been dubbed the McConaissance, an unbroken streak of great performances that many trace back to "Bernie" and "Magic Mike" in 2012 but I'd argue began with "Lincoln Lawyer" in 2011.   

Currently the front-runner to win the best actor Oscar for his starring role as an AIDS patient turned experimental drug smuggler in the true-life "Dallas Buyer's Club," McConaughey has long been one of my favorite celebrities.

I'm not saying I would've been prepared to launch a defense of him as a great actor back in the mid-'00s when he clearly was not living up to his potential, but as a wonderful screen presence? You know I would've gone to the mat for my boy.

For close to two decades, McConaughey has been a source of fascination for me. On the one hand, he is gifted at comedy. His defining role remains his first one, the groovy small town-lifer David Wooderson in the timeless "Dazed and Confused." No one could've made the line, "That's what I like about these high school girls -- I get older, they stay the same age," as iconic as McConaughey.

Back then, I quoted his small cameo as a greasy rental truck guy in the mostly forgettable (but surprisingly star-packed) 1995 Ben Affleck comedy "Glory Daze" almost as often. To this day if I can work the line "I'm ready to hot (pause) diggity deal" into a conversation, I will. And more recently McConaughey, playing a sleazy baseball scout in the HBO comedy series "Eastbound and Down," delivered a moving prayer to Jesus that included a very long and anatomically-detailed oral sex metaphor.   

But mostly what's made him worth following is his life philosophy. That philosophy is not necessarily compelling in and of itself, as it comprises only three words, "Just keep livin'," a maxim first uttered by McConaughey as Wooderson. But it has since become his guiding light, giving him the final line of his great acceptance speech for best actor in a dramatic role at the Golden Globes last Sunday and the name of his clothing line (JKL).

Everyone of course knows about the time he was arrested for playing the bongos naked and the roughly five-year span where he was never photographed wearing a shirt. But this DIY spirituality that is crucial to his unhurried elan also includes, according to a recent GQ profile, 821 aphorisms he has either collected or written himself, including original raps, such as "Rollin' through yellow lights on my skateboard / Kiss the fire and walk away whistlin'"

McConaughey also regularly emphasizes the search for one's own personal "frequency." He began a Fresh Air interview last year by playing percussion on his chest and humming, a process he explains as helping him find his rhythm, which he helpfully explained "turns the periods into commas." So, basically, he's a national treasure.

Other things I love about McConaughey:

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