What better way to kick off your spring break than to embrace the madness of Harmony Korine's latest debauchery tale Spring Breakers? Or, if you're a little young for that kind of thing, there's always cartoon caveman movie The Croods. Or maybe you're a little too old for that and want to watch Die Hard again, but in a different building, like in Olympus Has Fallen. Or maybe you're too boring and smug for any of that and would rather watch Admission. Something for everyone!
EXPECTATIONS: Spring Breakers had me at hello. As March 22 approached, reviews began pouring in. One critic described it as a cross between Natural Born Killers and Girls Gone Wild, two cultural phenomenons that were just itching for a mash-up. Who among us hasn't seen Natural Born Killers and thought, "This needs more woo! girls"? Spring Breakers forever, bitches.
REALITY: In 2005, my roommate and I found ourselves without a plan on New Year's Eve. Parties had fallen through and he wasn't old enough to hit the bars in Seattle, so we prepped a last-minute drive to Vancouver, B.C. Thanks to hiccups at the border station, the kind of parking trouble that only 10,000 soldiers looking for a place to drink can cause and unfamiliarity with Vancouver, we parked more than a mile from the club district and asked a cute hooker for directions.
By then, most clubs were packed to capacity and the remaining clubs were charging exorbitant covers. We grabbed a bottle of hooch, made our way to a nearby park and counted down to midnight, at which point I kissed someone who may or may not have been a woman. My roommate and I hailed a cab, the driver of which apparently received kickbacks to shuttle bewildered Americans to this working-class strip club in the weird part of town where second-string strippers crawl way too slowly across bearskin rugs to forgotten Canadian hair-metal ballads.
There was a lot of flannel in the crowd, and after we'd been propositioned for a foursome by a guy who looked like Al Borland, we booked it back to the Civic - momentarily sad that the hooker who gave us directions had found another john - and ended up at Deja Vu Showgirls in Seattle, where we waited in the parking lot until the club opened and ate breakfast while the only two dancers scheduled for 8 a.m. on New Year's Day hatefucked the pole to Nine Inch Nails and Coal Chamber.
So, yeah, sometimes these ritualized vacations don't work out according to plan.
The real ending to our New Year's Eve story.
I've seen Spring Breakers twice, and I feel like I've only started to peel back the layers. It's like examining a shoebox full of Polaroids from a lost weekend and struggling to connect half-remembered images to a narrative thread, much as I did above in my story about New Year's Eve, which contains an unspecified amount of bullshit because I was way too drunk to retain the truth of the finer points. My roommate and I compared notes for weeks to come up with a linear anecdote that still retained a kernel of honesty. Hey, it's the art of storytelling, OK?
Now let's shift the setting from the Pacific Northwest to a Floridian beach. College students Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) long for the kind of spring break celebrated by MTV and Girls Gone Wild but lack the means. Writer/director Harmony Korine imbues Spring Breakers with some biting class commentary here: While their wealthier peers flee the dorms to booze it up on the beach, as depicted in the film's Girls Gone Wild-esque opening segment, our protagonists fret on the cold tile of their communal bathroom. With only $325, how can they afford gas, lodging and intoxicants for an entire week?
Armed robbery, that's how. And after they successfully rob a nearby Chicken Shack and torch their getaway vehicle, they hop the first party bus to Florida, where their party plans still don't quite line up with those of their peers. While the well-to-do get up to get down around the hotel pool and at the nearby beach, Faith & Co. wind up doing coke with lecherous strangers in a trashed hotel room. The cops arrive and our protagonists spend a night in jail before Alien (James Franco), an enthusiastic rapper-criminal, bails them out with vague plans for a crime spree and ambiguous "partying." Oh, and Gucci Mane shows up.
I don't want to alarm you ladies, but that guy is armed.
If Spring Breakers existed only to explore these sorts of have/have-nots party scenarios, it would grow a little tedious. Fortunately, this is 104 minutes of Korine's best work, simultaneously subversive and accessible in its exploration of a great many themes: the above-mentioned class conflicts, sociopathy, touristic imperialism, voyeurism, self-objectification, sexual violation, ritual hedonism, the fetishization of violence as a vehicle for unspent sexual energy, the oddly comforting cadence of Gucci Mane's speech, etc.
In one of the film's earliest shots, Korine fills the frame with slo-mo jiggling titties while Skrillex monopolizes the audio. It would be hard to defend this shot as satirical if Korine didn't follow it immediately with a shot of a woman ripping from a beer bong and losing half the load in the process, spewing pisswater on the topless bro who's loading the funnel and egging her on. Later, Korine juxtaposes a shot of Cotty, wearing only her underwear and soaked in beer, with a shot of a bikini-clad woman sleeping next to a toilet full of shit and vomit.
In these one-two punches scattered throughout Spring Breakers, Korine is emphasizing the violence and defilement that's coupled with sexuality in our cultural representations of what the kids are up to when the parents aren't around. It's not a new critique - Korine has been rattling this cage since Kids - but the fact that Korine managed to bring this to the multiplex at a point when American pop culture has hit its nadir is nothing short of a miracle. By disguising this critique as a candy-colored heist film, Korine or whoever is responsible for marketing Spring Breakers has committed one of cinema's great pranks: The kind of filmgoer Spring Breakers exists to bait, the 18- to 25-year-olds who think any display of nudity in this prudish culture is itself a sex act, is the same filmgoer who will nibble at the brilliantly misleading trailer.
Watch the road! That's so dangerous!But when you consider the ratio of nudity to sex acts on display in Spring Breakers, the point becomes clear. From day one, Americans are warned against casual sex - especially casual public sex - and so we've found substitutes. In the early 20th century, those substitutes were double entendres and racy glimpses of bra straps. Now, Spring Breakers argues, those cultural substitutions have become a form of violation and supplanted sex itself.
A real, no-shit running motif in Spring Breakers is the abstraction of oral sex into garish displays of technique and violations. Early in the film, female characters simulate blowjobs on Popsicles and air cocks while male characters jet beers through hoses into other female characters' mouths. This motif culminates in a scene glimpsed in the trailer. Alien, at first unwillingly, gives a simulated blowjob to two submachine guns held like cocks by Candy and Brit. After it's over, he tells them he'll "suck (their) dicks every night." That, of course, is the ultimate abstraction of oral sex and maybe the key to understanding Spring Breakers: The blowjob is reduced to a ritual of submission between one lovestruck sociopath and two women who phallicize guns because they weren't born with cocks.
That kind of sexual confusion - and the idea that the penis is the weapon - mirrors the spiritual confusion that permeates Spring Breakers. What can we do but laugh when, in voiceover, Faith (a born-again Christian) tells her grandmother they've had a spiritual awakening of sorts in Florida while we're confronted with yet another montage of debauchery?
Spring Breakers isn't criticizing its protagonists; it's criticizing the spring break pilgrimage, during which college students of means blow off steam by having adventures they won't remember at the expense of locals they despise, and it's also questioning a society that allows misadventures so long as they fall within the parameters of controlled rebellion and benefit the local economy.
For what the trailer promises, Spring Breakers is heady. It's also abrasive and occasionally tedious, but it's one hell of a ride, undeniably gorgeous, an astute homage to Apocalypse Now and among the most original films to receive wide distribution in recent memory. It also has a lot of titty. Go see it for one of those qualities, and hopefully you'll learn to appreciate the others.
MINORITY REPORT: Somewhere in comedy heaven, Johnny Carson places a blue envelope to his turbaned forehead. "Ted Bundy, Roman Polanski, and Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis," he says. He opens the envelope. "Name three people less suited to be working with teenage girls than Harmony Korine." The divine audience laughs. Ed McMahon's spirit lets out a "Heyyy-ooooooooo!" that echoes into eternity. - Martin R. "Vargo" Schneider
REFORMED HOG - Former member of the swine family, has now agreed to behave like a proper dog. Free to patient home willing to overlook physical defects. 555-2519
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