Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Spring Breakers - 2012

"Spring Breakers" - 2012
Dir. by Harmony Korine - 1 hr. 34 min.

Official Red Band Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

"Spring Breakers" is a movie that dares you to judge everyone and everything in it harshly.  I found that reaction almost unavoidable, and none of the characters are people that you'd have much sympathy for.  It's also a fairly accomplished piece of filmmaking, if fairly nihilistic in approach.  I don't know if I'd call it a "good" movie, exactly, but it's a provocative one, and sometimes that's enough to justify a piece of work.

A quartet of college party girls (I don't know what else to call them) are frustrated because they don't have the means to head to Florida to take part in Spring Break (caps, because it's that important to them).  They're young, they're bored and restless, and dying for a new experience, which is to be interpreted as them wanting to throw down party-style even harder than their current collegiate setting will indulge.  The girls acquire some cash in an underhanded manner, and set off to St. Petersberg, FL.  Eventually, they run afoul of John Q. Law in their earnest attempts to destroy themselves with copious amounts of liquor and drugs, and are bailed out by a true G, Alien (James Franco).  The four girls are now kind of in debt to Alien, a grill-wearing, dope-slinging and dope-smoking local hustler, and respond to that situation in different ways.

"Spring Breakers," at it's core, feels like a sarcastic response to overhearing a middle-aged couple complaining about "kids these days."  If you think kids these days are bad, wait until direction Harmony Korine shows you about bad kids.  Almost endlessly, Korine juxtaposes hardcore partying (and by that, I mean routine toplessness, aggressive drug and alcohol use, and flat out sex, and that's where we begin the film) against things like the girls calling home to their parents, talking about how everyone's so friendly and how they think they've really found themselves.  The directing style of "Spring Breakers" is a big part of the film's appeal; it's elliptical, ironic, languid.  Until it isn't.  But the endless display of bad behavior (in slow-motion, frequently) is engaged in without any consideration for what may come next.

That the characters are so clueless about themselves is one of the big reasons why they're hard to sympathize with.  One of the great scenes has Faith (Selena Gomez) sitting in jail, bemoaning about why this was all happening to her, and that this wasn't how things were supposed to go.  But when you're part of a cocaine-fueled rave-up that destroys hotel rooms in it's fury, the "I'm a good person, why me" bit reinforces the notion that these girls, in particular, seem to be motivated by nothing more than boredom.  I don't usually get offended by violence in films - it's not preferable, but there's usually some kind of reason why it's occurring within the context of a story.  It might be a flimsy pretext, but that fig leaf matters.  The girls here don't have any reason for why they act, it's simply a means to alleviate boredom, and being willing to kill people simply because one is bored is sheer nihilism, the notion that nothing at all matters.  And their actions are a reminder that even people who have nothing positive to offer anyone still want things, perhaps to stand up to the idea that they aren't worth anything at all in the first place.  This idea is backed up by Alien's best scene, the "look at all my shit" scene.

I'm torn about a lot of things about "Spring Breakers."  I suppose it's fitting that such an elegantly directed movie is in service to characters who are not much more than beautiful appearances; it's using beauty to prop up the notion that beauty without substance is a valid path.  Of course, this path leads to a bad end for a lot of people, but if you're making a film about vapid thrill-seekers, doubling down on the visual approach works well.  It's just that all of this is telling an ugly story about awful people, and after an hour and a half, that's all that you're left with.  It's not just "kids these days," it's that you (and I, and all of us) have no choice but to turn over the keys to these kids at some point, and then you'd better hope that they're not bored, or we're all boned.

3 / 5 - Streaming

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