I’m not writing much lately. I know that.
I can attribute it to any number of factors: the growing pressures and responsibilities in my personal and academic life, the time I give over to athletics, pure laziness, et cetera. But why accept personal responsibility when I can pin it on an outside factor? The slate of films offered up in recent months seem less like genuine artistic expression than they do an extended conspiracy to kill my love for cinema. It has been a long winter. A crippling winter.
Spring is here.
My tastes have never overlapped much with that of shock artist/director Harmony Korine, whose body of work runs the gamut from his debut script, a film about an AIDS-addled sex-addict teenage skateboarder, to his recent film entitled, simply, Trash Humpers. I understand more the value of having artists like him around than the value of what they actually produce. So to see Korine make such a large leap to the mainstream with his new film, Spring Breakers, should come as more of a surprise. See, at first glance, Spring Breakers seems a product primed to satisfy the basest and crudest of audiences — advertised as a candy-colored fest of bikinis, hedonism, violence and pulsating music with the added hook of several Disney/soap-opera idols (Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson) gone “bad”. In essence: four fairly innocent teenage girls go down to Florida for spring break and gradually lose that innocence. It was not marketed incorrectly.
What shocks most about Spring Breakers is just how much of this content Korine offers up to his audience, to the extent that scenes and lines literally begin to add up and repeat themselves. At first glance, it seems a move of laziness and faux artistry. To take this stance, however, is to ignore just what a dreamlike state Spring Breakers conjures for much of its run-time: a hypnotic blur of provocative images, bright colors, bashing sounds. It is by leaps and bounds one of the most experimental films to meet the projectors of major cineplexes in quite some time, creating remarkably avant-garde aesthetic choices out of seemingly the most accessible subject matter there is: a spring break gone wrong (and as such, very very right). Korine is often content to dial back straightforward plot mechanics and momentum in favor of montage, emphasizing mood and music in curious, often inventive places.
But back to those girls. The three previously-mentioned teen idols, plus director Harmony’s wife, the pink-haired Rachel Korine, serve as the audience stand-ins to introduce us to a world of rampant partying and minimal connection. Their work, both as eye-candy and actresses, is pretty fantastic, giving credence to even the most outrageous lines the film conjures up (“Suck that gun, Alien!”, “All this money makes me wet”, “Wake up little bitch, it’s spring break!”, etc). The actor that absolutely slaughters his role, however, elevating Spring Breakers to a new level of lurid looniness: James Franco. Seeing his work in more big-budget projects of late (read: the limp Oz reboot from a few weeks back) makes one forget just how capable Franco is of immersing himself in a role, and he does so wildly here: playing a gun-toting, gold-toothed, corn-rowed rapper named Alien. He plays the role with complete earnestness, conjuring countless catch-phrases and unforgettably goofy neuroses in the process. Alien bails the four girls out of prison when their drug possession lands them in trouble, taking them under his wing.
Curiously, of the several dozen peers of mine that caught the flick over the last few weekends, I’m the only one that liked it in any fashion. Their reasons included the perceived lack of plot, lack of message, the improbable ending, the trashy behavior of the protagonists, etc. When one begins to interpret Spring Breakers as a deeply moral film, however, mysteries begin to reveal themselves: the grating, repetitive party sequences seem less like “entertainment” than they do angry, abrasive criticism. The film is holding up a mirror to the outlandish, bratty behavior of my generation, triggering a complex reaction in me. Sure, I enjoyed the shit out of this movie on an entertainment level. But what does that say about me? Questions like this triggered a discomforting reflection on my own actions and cultural attitudes — and knowing that it was no accident is what convinces me of the greatness of this film.
For the score, Cliff Martinez (of Drive) teams up with brash dubstep musician Skrillex to hammer out compositions that, when need be, either shake the theater with noise or subtly pulse with tension. Funnily enough, it’s the music of Britney Spears that gives Spring Breakers a sequence for the ages: the girls and James Franco’s rapper sit down at a sunset-side piano and give a rendition of the ballad “Everytime”, which is intercut with footage of the characters gleefully shooting and killing rival thugs. It manages to navigate between finely-tuned entertainment, spiteful irony, parading obnoxiousness and bittersweet beauty. Drugged-out college students will hold hands and sing along to it at midnight screenings in 30 years. And honestly, given where I am as a person and given where I interpret the state of cinema to be in 2013, that’s a compliment of the highest order. A-