Unless you’ve been asleep, you’ve probably seen the marketing for a little movie called Spring Breakers featuring bikini clad disney princesses with guns and smiles. What you might not expect, is the indie talent behind the scenes, and the decidedly unconventional filmmaking team that has brought this little movie into the national spotlight. Most of you have probably already made up your mind over whether or not you’ll shell out your hard earned cash to see this one, but for those still on the fence, take a gander below at your prospects.
The one thing that is indisputable is that Spring Breakers is an extremely divisive, and in it’s way, effective bit of filmmaking. How successful it is will depend on what you consider its goals to be, but there is no doubt that you will leave the theater having experienced something even if you’re not entirely sure what. For some, the experience will be akin to drug use, and based on the dazed looks of the critics who exited our screening, a fairly potent batch at that. In the simplest terms, it’s an auteur independent director who brought his off-the-wall, vaguely experimental storytelling style to a mainstream Hollywood movie. It’s not a particularly original tale, but the lens through which it is viewed allows for many layers of color and commentary that the script probably never included. Drive took a similar approach in overhauling the expectations of an action thriller, though that was a far more polished and refined movie-going experience than what Harmony Korine appears to be aiming at.
A lot of variables about the viewer’s values and their level of pop culture desensitization will play a defining role in how Spring Breakers works or doesn’t work for them, and I’d be surprised to find anyone outside the 20-30s male bracket who ends up calling this one a masterpiece. There is nudity and debauchery in large quantities, and it would be very easy to quantify the project as misogynistic. The counter argument is that by embracing the legitimate high-partying lifestyle of college students on spring break in a tropical paradise, the film leaves it open to the audience to provide their own context, resulting in a much more critical commentary than a message-driven contemporary culture diatribe would have elicited. By reveling in the disgusting and often brutally idiotic antics of our nation’s 20-somethings while abroad, the filmmakers shine such a bright spotlight that the veneer is, at least periodically, washed away before our eyes.
A big draw for the film has been its cast. Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, and the director’s wife, Rachel Korine, the film has been marketed as a window into the seductive side of these squeaky clean Disney starlets. No, you won’t see any of them naked in the film, though there is some implied nudity and scenes with a decidedly sexual content. What you will see are 4 very honest performances, characters who feel like real college girls, looking for one last chance to get away from their lives. The characters aren’t particularly smart, nor are they all that adept at the various criminal activities they engage in throughout the film, but that’s okay. The audience isn’t meant to identify with them as a one to one comparison, more as a metaphorical shell of who they could become if placed in a similar situation. This is also where the film will probably lose most of its older audience, as more mature viewers will find it painfully hard to relate to the things going through a modern teenager’s brain. Most of them won’t get it, and the few that do will probably be scared by it. Unfortunately, there’s more about the film that’s true than what’s not.
The final word has to go to discussing James Franco. The actor has undergone many transformative performances over the past few years, but none more severe than what he brings to the table here. It’s so apparent when he decides to put his effort into his work, and compared to his sleepwalking in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, here he’s vibrant and alive in a truly wicked way. If I had to imagine the devil incarnate, the result would probably look not unlike Franco with gold teeth, cornrows, sunglasses, tattoos covering his arms, and a handgun fitted into the waistband of his shorts. He’s a force of nature, and Korine uses him to great effect, allowing the whole arc of the film to change and react to his presence. In a part that could’ve been horrifically cheesy and reality shattering, he’s one of the most convincing parts of the film, totally at peace with the vacation paradise he calls home, and the nefarious way he’s chosen to live his life.
Spring Breakers is certainly not a movie for everyone. In fact, it may not even be a movie for most. For those with an open mind, and an overwhelmingly accommodating sense of moral ambiguity, there’s a lot to admire here. Divisive, yet effective. That just about sums up my thoughts on the matter, and with a tour-de-force turn by Franco, you should have reason enough to purchase a ticket. Just make sure you’re ready for much more than a drug fueled romp at the beach, because this isn’t a tale for the faint of heart.
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