Monday, April 1, 2013

The Big Review: Spring Breakers

Nope, this isn't from "The Bikini Carwash Company 3: Big Trouble in Little Bikinis"

Probably the best movie I've seen this year, with G.I. Joe: Retaliation finishing a close second. Could this be the year Adrianne Palicki gets her Oscar? My fingers are crossed! 

This review previously appeared in April's ICON and is reprinted with permission. 

Harmony Korine’s terrific Spring Breakers, or as I like to call it, Bikini Girls with Machine Guns, begs to be dismissed, or worse, embraced for purely lascivious reasons. It shouldn’t. Korine revels in the exploitative while preserving, even highlighting, the emotional. The film is erotic, hilarious, and bathed in nightclub neons, but the sadness sticks like bubble gum in your hair. We’re hooked at each turn. Four girls, eyes open to everything but reality, dive into the Girls Gone Wild culture without accounting for the jagged bottom.

It starts off innocently enough. The college friends want to leave their small, boring town and escape to spring break. It doesn’t matter if they’re partying pretty hard already—this getaway promises more. Korine plays the same scenes of sudsy sexed-up fun, with “spring break” repeated like a chant. The girls have become conditioned to expect a special kind of debauched glory.

Brainwashed is probably a better word. So it’s not surprising that three of the girls, Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), and Cotty (Rachel Korine, Harmony’s wife) rob a chicken joint to raise the remaining cash for the sun-soaked sojourn. “Pretend it’s a video game,” one of them yells, which tells you everything about their perspective. Faith (Selena Gomez) doesn’t participate in the hold-up, probably because she’s the only one with any kind of ethical foundation. Faith is wisely advised to “pray super hardcore” by a member of her prayer group.

Initially, the trip intoxicates Faith, who wants to shut her eyes and preserve it. She’s seen a different part of the world and is touched by its spirituality. The sentiments are funny because they are about a place featuring binge drinking and novelty T-shirts. It’s also an ode to the beauty of a young, uncluttered mind, a sign of just how unprepared the girls—who do gymnastics in the hallway and sing Britney Spears tunes without irony—are after they’re arrested during a raucous hotel room party.

Alien (James Franco), a hip-hop gangster/wannabe high roller, who has no connection to the quartet, bails them out. He sees something in them that satisfies his own needs, a notion that immediately repels Faith. Having the girls around, or those who willingly stay, fills a void. You can see this in the now-famous “Look at my shit!” scene, where Alien rattles off his household possessions—“I have Scarface on repeat”—to the grateful, swooning bunch. This is not the behavior of a confident man. But Alien gives the girls, especially Candy and Brit, entry into the thug life—or at least the one that MTV has glamorized. When the girls help Alien on his rampage, they sport pink ski masks embroidered with unicorns. Their exploits are filmed in slow-mo or bathed in psycho Easter Bunny colors. It’s part of the fun of being young, responsibility-free, and on vacation.

For all of the movie’s freaky behavior and dreamy cool—the fragmented narrative and color scheme makes Spring Breakers feel like a nightmare poem—Korine exhibits a ton of parental concern. After their arrest, Faith says, “This wasn’t the dream. It wasn’t supposed to end this way.” The advice given by the leader of her prayer group—“Every temptation, He’s going to give you a way out”—isn’t treated as satire but as good advice. The constant shots of gyrating asses and beer-bathed breasts lose their allure quickly. What’s left is a lonely, outmanned gangster with an unresolved blood feud.

Franco now treats his career as some kind of performance art. That he’s a movie star seems to be a creative choice—witness his indifferent attitude in roles like Rise of the Planet of the Apes. As Alien, he turns a hip-hop influenced white boy gangster into a goofy, pathetic soul. Nothing about the performance is contrived. When Alien sings that these girls have come from heaven, it’s not some line. Candy and Brit, however, are more interested in serving as apprentices, not as icons in short shorts.  

I’m writing this a week before Spring Breakers opens in Philadelphia. Some undoubtedly will buy tickets to see Hudgens, Gomez, and Benson shed their clothes (and family-friendly personas) or to see how far the movie goes. These people must not use the Internet, which is ideal for slack-jawed gawking. Great movies stimulate another organ. Korine knows exactly what he’s doing in Spring Breakers. One way or the other, the public will be disappointed. Too damn bad. [R]

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