Clap Or Demand Your Money Back: “Spring Breakers”

The Road to St. Pete's is Paved with Bad Intentions

The Road to St. Pete’s is Paved with Bad Intentions

By Alec Julian

Taste in art is a matter of perspective. Perspective is subjective. The subject of Harmony Korine’s (“Kids”) dark-crimedy “Spring Breakers” is youth, culture, violence, the American Dream, yada, yada, yada. Objectively, it’s about four Southern belles who rob a restaurant to finance their spring break escapades, leading them to cross paths with a hustler. Or, it’s about a quartet of college co-eds who rob the chicken shack so they can party in Florida and end up hooking up with an OG. Or, it’s about a few bad seeds, two of whom are really bad seeds, and their decent friend who compromises her values to embark on her romanticized version of spring break, until they all find themselves at the whim and mercy of a rapper/drug dealer. Or, it’s about four Southern belles who rob a restaurant to finance their spring break escapades leading them to cross paths with a hustler. That was nicely framed, wasn’t it? I was even considering adding a haiku to belabor my point that this is an art film because its composition is defined by juxtaposition, repetition, and stylized exposition.

An interesting thing happened in the theater: just as the last shot faded out, one person began applauding and another person asked, “Why are you clapping? That was terrible.” I won’t say which person was me, but I’ll be fair to both views.

I couldn’t stop laughing, it was so terribleFaith, Selena Gomez’s character, is woefully awful. She pretty much mangles every scene she’s in, and having her pals laugh at her doesn’t exonerate the time she wastes on screen pointlessly bantering melodramatically, pouting and looking lost, and what’s with those phone calls to her grandmother? Phone calls are a running theme in the movie and if you got to the end, you saw why they were necessary for the character arcs. These calls also evoke the movie’s distorted, tongue-in-cheek connection to films like “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” It’s part of the running irony of “Spring Breakers” to cast America’s clean cut sweethearts in salacious roles. Ms. Gomez holds her own in the least interesting role in the film. 

Speaking of irony, how about James Franco’s goofy performance as the hustler/dealer/rapper named Alien? Yeah, he’s based on a real guy; actually, a lot of real guys, but it’s just a hackneyed ploy to score laughs with the worn out gag of a white guy talking like a black guy. Haven’t we seen enough Eugene Levy, already? Franco is a better comedic actor than he is a dramatic actor. He may not have been the one to braid his hair into corn rows or cover himself in fake tattoos or install a grill over his teeth, but he is the one who got lost in the role.

"This is the fuckin’ American dream. This is my fuckin’ dream, y’all! All this sheeyit! Look at my sheeyit! I got… I got SHORTS! Every fuckin’ color. I got designer T-shirts! I got gold bullets. Motherfuckin’ VAM-pires. I got Scarface. On repeat. SCARFACE ON REPEAT. Constant, y’all! I got Escape! Calvin Klein Escape! Mix it up with Calvin Klein Be. Smell nice? I SMELL NICE!" - Alien

“This is the fuckin’ American dream. This is my fuckin’ dream, y’all! All this sheeyit! Look at my sheeyit! I got… I got SHORTS! Every fuckin’ color. I got designer T-shirts! I got gold bullets. Motherfuckin’ VAM-pires. I got Scarface. On repeat. SCARFACE ON REPEAT. Constant, y’all! I got Escape! Calvin Klein Escape! Mix it up with Calvin Klein Be. Smell nice? I SMELL NICE!”
– Alien

No, he’s a caricature. Look at his ridiculous house. The firearms. The stacks of cash. But only two goons working below him and no muscle to protect him. Yet, it seems like he’s running an empire in St. Petersburg, Florida, all the while, he’s skipping around town holding up spring breakers with girls. It’s a 90 minute movie, not a season of “The Wire.” The goons weighing and counting is just a motif meaning business as usual. Franco sells the absurdity as nuance and keeps us on edge because his reputation precedes him and he commands respect. Sometimes, he’s just there to express an idea like when he childishly, humorously, derivatively, but unsentimentally justifies why he’s achieved the American Dream.

Franco tries his best to do dead pan but it turns out stilted. Just look at the Britney Spears thing. Which about the Britney Spears thing? Both are lame and laughable, but I’m not talking about the boring one. Name a better montage.

Actually, the whole thing feels like montage or a bunch of spliced and recut music videos. Dialogue repeats itself and plays over slightly different clips. Especially the ridiculous stuff Ms. Gomez says comparing spring break to a spiritual experience. It’s as if Mr. Korine is telling us not to take anything in the movie seriously. Oh, and the reels of party people looping and repeating until my eyes are bleeding and my yawning is thankfully hushing some of that annoying Skrillex dubstep soundtrack. You can’t argue that the movie isn’t current, if it includes drum and base. Still, Mr. Korine arranged the capable Cliff Martinez (“Drive” and “Bronson”) to collaborate on the score, and don’t you think the opening riff was great in the end in instrumental form? Sometimes, it’s alright to sidestep wearied dialogue and move the narrative along in other ways. Spring break as a spiritual experience works here because the film aims to be a serious statement about the values of a youth subculture.

But when it comes down to the brass tacks, isn’t “Spring Breakers” just Girls Gone Wildwith better cinematography and an Oscar nominated lead? Too far with that analogy. It may be pornographic, somehow. Really, your call. The definition’s opaque. Cronenberg’s humorless “Crash,” which has back to back to back vivid coital scenes is arguably not pornographic, though again, some say it is.

Writer/Director Harmony Korine (center) with Vanessa Hudgens (right) and Ashley Benson (left)

Writer/Director Harmony Korine (center) with Vanessa Hudgens (right) and Ashley Benson (left)

Okay, the finale was ludicrous and fantastic, but why no gloves? Because the finale is so ludicrous and fantastic. The gloves are the ultimate compensatory gesture to the “real world,” an ironic expression used frequently throughout. Frankly, it’s a concession that the well-regarded “Dark Knight Rises,” in which the superhero drops off a nuclear payload in the nick of time and conveniently runs into his butler at a restaurant in Europe, has no match for. The artistic license here seems less glib, less like it was ordered by a focus group, and it didn’t make the movie worse. That really depends on what you thought of an equally polarizing film called “Scarface.” That movie was better paced. I mean could this get much worse? Less like an ideation of a depraved feminist’s fantasy – the end, at least. Strangely enough, I was happy about the end because for the most part the movie just plodded along, killing me softly and slowly with its dismal vision set on loop to dubstep – the worst of all worlds.

(“Spring Breakers” is rated R for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout.)

Alec Julian is a Los Angeles based writer, who (fake) tweets.

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