Monday, December 9, 2013

Spring Breakers

Directed by Harmony Korine.
2013. Rated R, 94 minutes.
Ashley Benson
Rachel Korine
Gucci Mane
Heather Morris
Ash Lendzion
Emma Holzer

Four gal-pals are all pumped for spring break. Unfortunately, they realize they don’t have enough money to get down to St. Petersburg. Apparently, that’s where all the action is going down. One of the girls is the heavy-handedly named Faith (Gomez), a goody two-shoes who spends lots of time in church. Unbeknownst to her, the other three come up with a plan to get the rest of the cash they need in a hurry. They don ski masks and burst into the local diner while brandishing a sledgehammer and some water guns. The heist goes well. They take money from the register, rob the patrons and gleefully flee to the dorms. Very shortly, the three of them plus the clueless Faith do indeed get down to St. Pete’s. By the way, the felonious three are Candy (Hudgens), Cotty (Korine), and Brit (Benson).

Anyhoo, our crew does what lots of other college kids do and have a little too much fun in the sun, indulging in drugs and destroying hotel rooms. For this, they find themselves in jail with no way of bailing themselves out. Riding to rescue is Alien (Franco), a local drug dealer and aspiring rapper. He happens to be in the courtroom to spring one of his buddies when he spots our bikini clad foursome being sent away for a few more days unless they can come up with the money to pay the fine they’ve incurred. Alien takes it upon himself to pay it for them, and is waiting for them as they get released. Before you know it, they find themselves immersed in a completely different world than what they bargained for.

For some, the veneer of Spring Breakers will be difficult to penetrate. It’s easy to think you’re watching an R-rated music video. There is seemingly an endless succession of naked and/or gyrating bodies. Large quantities of alcohol are not only drank, but flung about in celebratory fashion, splashing everything in sight except for the various parts of the anatomy that cocaine is snorted off. Finally, the music blares while much of this happens in slow-motion. That there is actually a story is efficiently hidden for a large chunk of the movie. On top of this, the way the plot moves forward is slightly different than what many people are used to. We expect long stretches of dialogue during which information is delineated for us to follow. Here, we get short bursts of conversation intertwined with cutaways to its results. There is also lots of echo assisted voice-over and shots of one or another of the characters alone, either smiling or deep in thought. It gives the whole movie a dreamy, Terrence Malick inspired feel and does nothing to dispel the notion of this being a music video. That is, until we notice how slyly things have progressed. It becomes a warped love story with potentially dire consequences for all involved.

Where the movie flounders is in its depiction of the individual characters. The girls are quite literally handled as Faith and “the other three.” She is the only one clearly distinguishable from the rest. Her personality, beliefs, and innocence make her stand out. The others are interchangeable, for the most part. This includes Vanessa Hudgens whom I was surprised didn’t get a meatier role, if for no other reason, she’s the most famous of the remaing trio. Alien is a bit problematic, as well. Franco does very well here, but his appearance makes us unsure how to take him for quite a while. Is he merely a stereotype, or a walking mockery of hip hop culture, particulary of whites within that culture? In other words, is he a joke, or not? Eventually, we settle on an answer, but it takes longer than it should. An even bigger issue is the film’s de facto villain Archie, played by real life rapper Gucci Mane. Yes, he is definitely a stereotype, but that’s not my biggest beef with him. More germaine to the movie than what type of character he appears to be is that it mishandles him. He tells us point blank what he must do in the scene that drives home the point that he is definitely the bad guy. However, when he gets the chance to do it, he doesn’t, which is of no benefit to him whatsoever. Even worse, he does something at that same juncture that we know will be detrimental to his cause. It’s not that he couldn’t take this course of action, but why he would is not clear. If it’s there, Gucci’s blank facial expressions don’t sell it. Whatever you think of his music, you’ll probably agree his acting is terrible.

Earlier, I mentioned Terrence Malick. I’m not at all a fan. Despite all the critical acclaim it received, I hate Malik’s The Tree of Life. Still, the best parts of it were mostly in the second act where the narrative is propelled by small pockets of interactions by the family involved and lots of quick cuts to flesh things out. As I have already noted, director Harmony Korine, who wrote Kids and Gummo (also directing the latter), employs similar tactics here, with great success. Combined with all the chaotic imagery, they give the movie a wonderfully surreal feel. He and his editor, Douglas Crise, are the real stars of Spring Breakers. They have put together a story that is twisted, manic, and disturbing with a current of very dark humor running through it. Its sights and sounds bombard our senses, but doesn’t dull them. It is part odd and Shakespearean romance, part skin flick, and part sociological satire; all with art-house aspirations.

No comments:

Post a Comment