Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring Breakout

If there's a movie this spring that casts a divisive view of itself to potential audiences, it's Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers. The experimental director has had his share of detractors over the years, but it's fairly easy to see how portraying four young women (two of whom are former Disney actresses, another being his wife) as bikini-clad gun-toting criminals on Spring Break MIGHT offend more than a few people. But as many of you know, that's exactly the kind of artist that Korinne is: a rule-breaking artist whose ideas of what the film medium should be do not necessarily match up with mainstream of the industry. And with his release of Spring Breakers - no matter what your opinion in the subject matter - you have to admit that its box office success speaks volumes as to what people really want to see.

The religious Faith (Selena Gomez) and her trouble-making friends Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are among the only students still at their dreary college during Spring Break. While they would love nothing more than to get out of town and celebrate with the rest of their classmates, they do not have the money necessary to make it happen. After solving that issue by robbing a fast-food restaurant, the four march down to Miami to spend the whole week in happiness and hedonism. It's all fun and games until they are arrested and face spending the rest of their trip behind bars, and thug/rapper Alien (James Franco) bails them out because they seem like "nice people". Soon the girls are torn between their past lives and the criminal world that most people hope they never see firsthand, changing their outlook on the whole "Spring Break" experience.

First, it was like this...
You can't go into any conversation about Spring Breakers without focusing first and foremost on the music. Boasting a soundtrack from Cliff Martinez (whose work I last heard in the wonderful Drive) and electronic musician Skrillex, with a bit of Gucci Mane thrown in, the film thrives in its musical interludes, with the perfectly jarring tunes matching up with the frenetic pace of Korine's directing and the mindsets of his characters. Korine even recruits from his music crew for the cast, as rapper Mane holds a small, antagonistic role. Naturally, he does about as well as you'd expect a musician to do in his acting debut, but it's not as though his is a major role, and so it's nothing to obsess over. Some of the musical bits were somewhat questionable (not one but two tributes to Britney Spears, plus another of her songs in the closing credits), but for the most part the soundtrack was perfectly attuned to what the audience ends up seeing on the screen.

...and then it was like this!
Of course, the need for amazing music was absolutely necessary when you consider that the story was about as slim as a number two pencil. There's not enough here to support the meager hour-and-a-half run time of Spring Breakers, a film that at times appears to be an extended commercial for the now-bankrupt Girls Gone Wild. Ample bosoms and rippling six packs can heal a multitude of sins, but by the halfway mark, you cease to be mesmerized by casual nudity and want something more than what Korine is willing or able to offer. The director does succeed visually; comparing the constant twilight with both the bright colors of Spring Break and the depressingly bleak greys of the criminal underworld is a prime example of great mood-settings in film. But nice visuals (and a few genuinely good scenes) don't make for a whole story, and Spring Breaker's massive gaps in narrative do its stars no favors, most notably in the absolutely insane final act.

He actually shows off some talent here...
Not surprisingly, the story issues mean we don't get the best performances we can out of the young cast. I never thought I would say this, but the film's biggest problem might be that there's not enough Selena Gomez. The former Disney protege turns in a startlingly strong performance, but it's also a relatively small one (at least compared to the rest of the cast). Faith is the most grounded and identifiable of the four women, and pushing her aside to focus on the bland, slightly psychotic trio that she runs with is arguably Korine's biggest failure. Also underwhelming is James Franco, but not for the reasons you might think. While Franco has squandered his potential in a number of his big-screen appearances (most recently Oz the Great and Powerful), he surprises many by actually reaching in and acting this time around, playing his tattooed, gold-toothed gangsta with much more subtlety and depth than anybody could have expected. But what's disappointing is how much of the movie is placed on his shoulders upon his appearance; the film no longer belongs to the four women we've been following all this time, but to the skeevy hustler that arrives about halfway through and steals the show.

Please... no more singing!
When going to see Spring Breakers, I figured that I was in for a coming-of-age story featuring four young actresses set against the exotic and hedonistic tone that is the legend of Spring Break. I was WORRIED that it would turn into an exploitation flick featuring the ladies stifled under the rule of a ghetto James Franco. What actually happened was in that unpredictable gray area in the middle, and you can safely assume that whatever you experience while watching this movie, you won't have seen it coming. In that, Korine has achieved more success than most directors in this era. But it doesn't make Breakers interesting, or even remotely relevant. If your decision were to skip this movie, I coudn't for any reason give you a valid argument against your dismissal. In the end, while it has its strengths, Spring Breakers is simply not interesting enough to bother.

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