Monday, September 23, 2013

SPRING BREAKERS Is Crazy Vision of Hell On Earth


- Far from being a simple bit of pop exploitation, SPRING BREAKERS is a weird-as-hell, tripped-out, pitch-black social satire that I found both fascinating and aggravating. Writer/director Harmony Korine is not the kind of guy who would ever make a normal teen beach movie. And a normal teen beach movie this is not. This is a film that's subversive, darkly funny, and very much critiquing the "spring break!" lifestyle, that, upon first glance, it seems to be celebrating. But in fact, the film seems to look out upon the bleak wasteland of youth-trash culture and cast an apocalyptic, judgmental eye upon it. Korine goes full-on scorched earth here, delivering an at-times funny, at times-scathing satire that is well worth checking out, even if only to see something completely weird and different.

Spring Breakers tell the story of four college girls who are desperate to escape their dorms and classrooms and live the crazy, party-all-night lives that to them are the nadir of existence. Their mecca is Spring Break, and they are determined to get their at all costs. Only good-girl Faith (Selena Gomez) has reservations about the whole thing, though she goes along with her friends with a disturbing sense of naivete. I say this because the girls' plans to party are tinged with a sinister streak. Their appetite for danger and destruction comes with a nihilistic, masochistic attitude - as evidenced by the other three girls, Candy, Britt, and Cotty - funding their plans through armed robbery. The three wilder girls clearly get off on holding innocent people at gunpoint, and that desire to keep pushing boundaries colors everything that comes next.

Enter James Franco's drug-dealing, cornrowed rapper Alien. Alien is sort of the lord of Spring Break, and he quickly takes the four girls under his wing. Under Alien's tutelage, the girls' evolving ideas of Spring Break glory continue to evolve. Sex and violence intermingle, and the loose morals of Spring Break transform into a brazen immorality that is less about partying and fun, and more about a numb, brain-dead youth culture who rack up real-life thrills with the emotional detachment of a junkie looking for the next fix.

Like just about all elements of the film, Franco walks the exact line between trashy, jokey badness and oddball brilliance. Somehow, it works. And at one point soon after his character's introduction, James Franco gives - no joke - one of the most memorable monologues in movie history. Taking the girls into his tricked-out, uber-tacky crib, Alien gives one of the most memorable house tours ever - in a hilarious, totally insane rant that centers around the oft-repeated mantra of: "look at all my $#%^!".

In fact, the whole movie has this kind of circular, spiral structure. Key images and phrases repeat and return throughout the film, and the effect is that of going down the rabbit hole, by way of a psychedelic mind-trip. It's almost as if Korine is trying to subject us to the same brainwashing that his characters seem have gone through. These are characters who worship at the altar of Britney Spears and Girls Gone Wild videos. These are characters who seem almost insane, yet are revealed to be part of a mass-insanity that spreads almost like a virus. This is dark stuff, disturbing stuff, and Korine presents it as downright hellish.

All that said, Korine still engages in plenty of surface-level titillation. The director casts child-actor icons like Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Benson as his bad girls (plus his own wife, Rachel Korine), but none brings much truly memorable to the table other than their Disney-bred pedigree. To be fair, the script portrays these girls as sort of pop-culture-slave pod people, so there isn't much for them to do except act glaze-eyed and strung out. Again, it's all a very fine line. The movie sometimes feels a bit too much like the Girls Gone Wild quasi-porn it seeks to satirize. And yet, there's undeniably that darkness there, and a real sense of contempt for its characters rather than glorification.

And so, Korine reels you in with the promise of one thing, but the end result is another thing entirely. It's not a movie glorifying spring-breakers - nope, it's a movie eviscerating 'em, going so far as to say that what they represent may very well be the death knell of the civilized world. Korine walks the line between being compelled by this world and repulsed by it. I don't think he 100% pulls off his vision. The repetition can get draggy, the pacing sometimes feels off, and there's occasionally the feeling that Korinne isn't quite sure what the hell this movie is, exactly. But he gets at something, in the movie's best moments, that makes an impression. He draws the arrow from trash-culture to apocalypse in a way that's both funny, thought-provoking, and just crazy enough to make sense.

My Grade: B+

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