Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spring Breakers

"Spring Breakers" represents something I'd like to see more often:  an art house director taking on a genre that is usually made for the lowest common denominator and pushing it in a dark new direction.  Let's see Lars von Trier direct "Transformers 4", David Lynch do "Paranormal Activity 5", and Terrence Malick can do a Tyler Perry film.  Then Michael Bay can spend seven hours filming a helicopter from seven directions and have Megan Fox float by an exploding dinosaur and we can call it "Tree of Life 2:  Way of Nature Strikes Back".  Essentially that seems to be the concept of "Spring Breakers", directed by Harmony Korine - taking the lowest common denominator party comedies, and transforming them into a freakish spiritual journey into the American college student's Heart of Darkness, Spring Break.

What Harmony Korine has done here is collect two Disney channel creations, such as Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, along with the non-Disney branded Ashely Benson (but her filmography is so vapid she might as well be a Disney creation), and finally his wife, Rachel Korine, and put them together on a strange journey to the promised land of the Key West at Spring Break.  The plot sounds like something out of a 90s teenage comedy, these four girls live in Texas and are endlessly bored, so they use a squirt gun to rob a diner and then drive off to spring break for the party of their lives.  There they meet the hilariously wacky James Franco, an off-the-hook rapper/gangster and they go on a short crime spree in pink ski masks.  But then you see the movie, and that sentence transforms into:  "four desperately lost college girls violently rob a bank, go to Spring Break which is a hideous nightmare of gyrating madness, almost get sold into sexual slavery by James Franco, a grotesque nightmare of lawlessness and self-delusion, and then brutally assault and murder dozens of people as they abandon every moral and logic of the world they grew up in."

Clearly, "Spring Breakers" is not a regular movie.  The advertisements might fool some teenagers into believing they're going to see some mild escapist fun with hot chicks and maybe some gross-out humor.  But within ten minutes they'll realize they went to the wrong movie, because this isn't a parody, this is satire.  And satire of the most severe and mindbending form.  You want to break all the rules to go out and party and have fun?  Well, let's have a movie where the main characters actually break all the rules, and go so far off the deep end to pure barbarian madness that the audience doesn't know which way is up any more.  Yeah, there are gross-out moments and grotesques, but these aren't gags.  "Project X" might claim it portrays every parents' worst nightmare and everybody can have fun with it, but "Spring Breakers" isn't just your Mommy and Daddy's worst case scenario, its your own.

"Spring Breakers" is not a movie I can say I fully understand.  Harmony Korine is probably not creating some kind of moralist message to the children to stay away from drugs and guns, but I can't really be sure he's standing on the side of the wild parties he's staged*.  As a matter of fact, I can't be sure all of "Spring Breakers" isn't some kind of elaborate joke, or just an excuse for Korine to film lots of girls in the low twenties with their shirts off as horny dudes pour beer all over their tits.  (Though naked chicks are just as much of a motivation to go see "Spring Breakers" as they are to make it, so maybe we shouldn't judge too harshly.)  Its definitely a movie that you might need to see several times to fully understand, if fully understanding it is even possible.

The plot structure reminds me a great deal of "Apocalypse Now".  Our quartet of college students are desperately lost at home, unable to connect with either their studies or their bible classes.  So they step out of the empty dreary landscape of their campus and head to Florida to Spring Break.  At first its nothing but wild parties and fun, but then the party starts to go more and more out of control.  And before these girls know it, they've been bailed out of jail by Alien, the James Franco character, perhaps the scummiest and most obviously despicable human being put in front of a camera in history.  And by that point we're only halfway through the movie, there's still several Circles more of neon-lighted and bright-colored Inferno in which to descend.  At this point two of the girls simply leave, starting with Selena Gomez who immediately and quite naturally decides that Alien the rapping drug dealer is not the kind of person she wants to hang around with.  By the end its hard to even recognize the main characters anymore and their motivations have become completely muddled, as they are little more than gangsters, killing people in cute leotards.

I'm fairly certain large segments of "Spring Breakers" did not have a script, and most of the movie is filmed like a strange kind of documentary.  Instead of regular scenes, Harmony Korine usually has characters narrate over an endless montage, repeating scenes constantly in a collage of popular arthouse trends.  Unfortunately, this leaves much of the movie oddly muddled, because other than Selena Gomez's character, the cherubic Faith**, you really don't get to see much of the other three girls individually.  Heck, I don't even know their names, if they had ones.  I guess all this endless narration could have been worse:  if Terry Malice had made "Spring Breakers" it would all be pseudo-philosophical ramblings spoken in whisper too low to even be understand.  I guess the point of "Spring Breakers" wasn't really stories or characters in specific, but rather a giant sweeping visual attack on your brain as moments of booties bouncing, beer spray, nipples, cocaine lines, Britney Spears songs, and bullets all come together into a collage of filmmaking.  Its a little too advent-garde for my tastes but it works here.  Still, if this movie had been made more traditionally, it wouldn't have immediately turned off general audiences and maybe the off-the-rails third act could have left an impression on the "Project X" or "21 and Over" crowds.

The best actor, by far, is James Franco, who jumps both feet forward into the role of Alien.  With his corn rows, solid silver teeth, gaudy car, and a TV playing "Scarface" on endless 24-hour repeat, Alien is everything you would not want your daughters hanging around with.  At first he seems to have little interest in their girls he's found more than just prey to be used, sold, devoured, and forgotten.  But as he realizes these ladies are actually just as lawless and lost as he is, there develops a bond of - at least on his end, true affection.  Still, "Spring Breakers" is so unconventional that you honestly can never be sure what Alien is going to do with the girls or what the girls are going to do with Alien.  I will say though, James Franco is shockingly game for playing this ultimate mixture of Vanilla Ice, Lil Jon, and his character from "Pineapple Express".  In the same theater you might find James Franco struggling to get into the generic role of the Wizard Oz, you'll find James Franco hamming his hipster heart out as Alien, its shocking.  This is easily his best performance yet.

The last movie I reviewed, "Stoker", definitely is complex and heavy for its audience, but I generally understood it by the time I walked out.  But "Spring Breakers" is far more.  You will leave the theater with your brain properly scrambled, not entirely sure what you just witnessed or even if it was any good.  And I'm unable to simply justify watching "Spring Breakers" with the judgement of "entertaining or not".  It isn't going to be a movie I'll forget very quickly.

* Ironically much of this film seems to be made the same way that about 50% of "Project X" was made - just stage a huge party and have the attractive extras go wild for several hours while your cameramen wander the crowd and collect the best scenes of total abandon.  By the way, is there a sign-up sheet for being a crowd member for "Project X-2"?

** Is that some kind of world play or symbolism?  Because that would be the worst damn symbolism I've seen since this side of Stephenie Meyer.

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