On Friday, I had the day off, and watched a wonderful documentary called Side by Side. It’s about the transition from celluloid film to digital production (hang on) and it’s produced and narrated by Keanu Reeves (seriously, hang on, where are you going?). It’s very interesting if you’re a nerd about details like that and discusses not just the history of the transition, but also reactions pro- and con-, as well as the ramifications of this transition. It’s well done, and at only about 90 minutes, a breeze to get through. Lucas had a long nap that day, so it worked out.
But, we’re not here for that. We’re here for Spring Breakers, which I saw the following evening. For my birthday. Was it a worthwhile birthday gift? Yes. Was it a good movie? Still on the fence, but I’m barely leaning toward yes.
Spring Breakers loomed long on the horizon in the world of indie film, like an art-house Prometheus. No one knew exactly what it would be, but it got everyone’s attention, and expectations were high, even if those expectations weren’t positive. What kind of movie would Harmony Korine, the man behind Gummo and Trash Humpers, make about spring break? Would there be horrifying monster people? Would it be set in a trailer park? Would Werner Herzog be in it? Would it be shot on Betamax?
The answer? A remarkably straightforward movie, considering who directed it. In terms of film in general, it’s very strange, with a looping, zigzagging narrative. It’s sort of like if a studio asked Korine to make a PG-13 teen romp about spring break in Daytona Beach, and this is as absolutely close as he could make it.
Briefly: The movie stars Disney princesses Selena Gomez & Vanessa Hudgens, Korine’s child bride, and another woman as a group of girls dissatisfied with their surroundings in a small college town. They desperately want to go to spring break in Florida, but find they haven’t saved enough money, so the three that aren’t Selena rob a restaurant to fund the trip. They go, have a beer-and-tits-soaked time, then get arrested when the party they’re at gets raided and they haven’t the sense to escape. They get bailed out by local drug dealer Alien (James Franco, in an insane performance), and shit gets cray.
I’ll get what’s not good out of the way: it’s not as shocking as you’d think. Korine making a movie about teen debauchery certainly goes places both dark and titillating, but not as far as you’d think. Sure, there are guns and drugs and tits (plenty of all those), but it’s no worse than any other “shocking” R-rated movie about teens. Given Korine’s pedigree, it’s almost a letdown how vanilla the film is with its immorality.
There’s also the idea of “spring break” as a mantra, a life mission, that doesn’t ring true. Even the most committed partiers don’t think that spring break is a philosophy; it’s simply a week where they don’t have class and get to fuck anything that moves. But a lot of the film hinges on this idea of the girls – and Alien – holding onto the notion of spring break as the answer to their problems, when no one does that. I think there’s an element of satire in the film (shit, Alien is NOTHING but satire), but the constant refrain of “SPRING BREAK FOREVERRRRR” got some (I believe) unintentional laughs.
On the subject of Alien: he is easily the film’s best asset, as many other reviews have noted. Franco approaches the character with Cageian gusto; you don’t quite know what the hell he was thinking with his choices, but you can’t look away. Alien is basically if Kevin Federline got a modicum of respect and success as a low-level drug dealer, but is still kind of a piece of shit. There are two sequences in the film that I would easily put, at this point in time, as some of the best moments in movies this year: the “Look At My Shit” speech, and the robbery montage set to Britney Spears’ “Everytime.” That they both involve Franco isn’t surprising.
Aesthetically, the film is remarkably beautiful, a surprise given Korine’s earlier work involving off-the-shelf camcorders. Florida’s nighttime cityscape looks gorgeous, all streaks of headlights and neon. And the score, credited to Cliff Martinez & Skrillex (hang on), provides a sense of impending doom, even if the film’s end doesn’t quite deliver on that promise. And Selena Gomez, while never nude, is often in a bikini, so that’s also aesthetically pleasing.
I don’t know what anyone, myself included, was expecting from Spring Breakers. Would it be a simple crime caper? A scathing indictment of the current MTV generation? A scathing celebration of the current MTV generation? A fat-free whipped topping AND a powerful floor wax? In the end, it’s seemingly all of these and none of these. I don’t know what to do with it, but I kind of liked it.
And isn’t that what any piece of art hopes to achieve?