Spring Breakers: Warring Expectations
This Friday, I hit the cinema with my fiancee to see the movie Spring Breakers. Though never explicitly expressed, we both came expecting to get some eye candy: I would get to see a bunch of Disney princesses go bad, and my lady would get to watch Harry Osborn be a gangster. The previews looked hilarious, the reviews were kind, and the premise was promising.
In case you’re not familiar, the premise goes as such:
A group of three crazy blondes and Selena Gomez want to have a proper spring break but can’t because they’ve only managed to save $300 for an entire semester (no campus jobs, eh?). Not content with being stuck on an empty campus for a week or more, three of the girls complete a robbery to fund their trip. Once out and about, the girls run afoul of the law and into a local rapper and gangster known as Alien (James Franco).
On paper, this looks like the premise of a genius comedy with some opportunities for social commentary. What we got was scathing observation in a neon nightmare.
Now we come to a troubling spot for a movie reviewer to be in: should I judge this movie based upon my own expectations, or should it be judged as a film with its own message?
To that I say, “Why not both?” I’ll put on both of my reviewing hats for this movie; first as the guy who expected to see High School Musical Gone Wild, and then I’ll counter as the movie reviewer who’s interested in “film.”
Guy Who Saw This Poster & Decided to See the Movie
Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong about what I was going to get in this movie. The previews looked like they were showing an over-the-top comedy with girls in skimpy outfits and James Franco acting a fool Pineapple Express-style. What I got was a stream of consciousness fever-dream dunked in neon and nudity. My first red flag went up during the first party scene, and it didn’t lower throughout the rest of the film.
Typically, if a movie is a comedy, you’ll know right away because the party is insane and people are performing absurd and lewd acts that you’re likely to recreate at home. Instead, it felt real and kinda depressing; there’s almost no light, the soundtrack is insanely mellow, and there doesn’t seem to be anything interesting about the main characters.
Things didn’t improve much from there. Those looking for sex appeal will get disappointed with thanks to characterization. The girls are either too drunk, innocent, or flat out sociopathic to find attractive for practically the entire movie, making any savory bikini images difficult to absorb. Fans looking to see wavy-haired James Franco will also be discouraged due to braids, plated teeth, and an increased creep factor. The fact that there’s a large number of flat-out awkward scenes with both parties doesn’t help.
Story-wise, the plot is simple, middling, and somewhat aimless. Once in town, the girls drift from party to party in a wandering fashion with nudity that seems unnecessary at best and distracting at worst. James Franco’s entrance sharpens the focus, but this seems almost entirely unrelated to the movie we’ve been watching for forty minutes.
Then we come to the editing. While most movies offer a sense of scene breaks or transitions, everything in this movie goes at a nonstop pace. This mishmash of dialogue and images come at times that seem to skew our sense of chronology. The end result leaves the audience mentally exhausted by denying us a chance to catch our breath or figure out what’s going on.
Oh, and did I mention the movie is quite depressing? Because the movie is aiming for social commentary and not frivolity, you’ll likely be weeping for the current generation of youth or anyone that went to a true spring break. I honestly went running for a drink after this.
Fanciful Movie Critic
(Done Mostly as Retroactive Reaction)
For someone that was surprised by what they got out of this movie, they should really research writer/director Harmony Korine and his background. The man has never made a mainstream movie in his life and began his career with a frightening portrayal of youth of out control in Kids. Anything the studio or marketers showed you for Spring Breakers was clearly intended to get your butt in the seat.
Once you know his background, Korine’s point is pretty obvious and well thought out. This movie thrives off the questions it forces the audience to ask.
- During the initial heist we might ask, “What would I have done to go to spring break?” or “Would I have been able to do what they did?”
- Once the girls are in Florida, you may ask, “How is this fun?” or “How is this allowed?” or “Do you really think there aren’t consequences for this?”
- And finally, as things take a turn for the worst, you’ll be asking, “How easy is it to get caught up in something like that? Please don’t say my daughter would,” or “Who thinks this lifestyle is worth celebrating?”
The editing heartily contributes to the nightmarish feel of the film by never truly stopping while throwing constant excess, sex, and violence in the audience’s face. With no moment to breathe, you’ll feel like you’re attending a bad party with no end in sight. The effect is compounded when combined with Korine’s splash of creepily repeated lines, voice overs, and Cliff Martinez’s (Drive) moody soundtrack.
Of course, the stand out of the movie is James Franco, who takes a laughably named (Alien), and styled character (corn rows and a giant grill) into a brilliantly hodgepodged street tough, creepy ladykiller. Probably the greatest thing to Franco’s credit is how genuine his character seems throughout the film. It was easy to see the character for what it is instead of laughing at the concept of James Franco as the whitest rapper. Sorry, Vanilla Ice.
That’s not to say the film lacks faults. The transitions are somewhat clunky at times, and Korine’s editing often makes it difficult to decipher what is the past or present–this is especially problematic towards the end. Also, there’s a number of logical questions that the movie just seems to gloss over once Alien (Franco) enters the picture, choosing to favor the “girls gone bad” aspect of the movie.
The end result may not be satisfying for viewers, but the film’s ability to convey its message can’t be denied. It’s an ugly mirror held up to an accepted aspect of American culture, and it’s certainly not pretty. That’s why, despite every poster or commercial you may see, the movie isn’t sexy. It’s not supposed to be.