Mar 26 2013
4.5 out of 5 stars
I remember when I went to see Drive a few years back, and ended up walking into one of the strangest moviegoing experiences of my life. I thought I was going to see a variant of The Fast and the Furious or The Transporter with Ryan Gosling subbing in for Vin Diesel or Jason Statham. The high reviews perplexed me, but only encouraged the decision to go.
What I found instead what something else entirely. It was an art house film which was the slowest of slow boils, occasionally erupting in horrifically shocking fits of ultraviolence. The film was gorgeous, amazingly scored, powerfully acted and ended up being one of the best films of the year. And all this from something I thought was a Fast and Furious clone.
Spring Breakers pulls a similar trick on its audience, but in more ways than one. Staring real life Disney princesses like Selena Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place), Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) and Ashley Benson (Pretty Little Liars), the vast majority of the audience will have a set idea of what they’re getting into. The posters and the trailers all indicate something of a “good girls gone bad” scenario where a group of teens have fun and sexy adventures over spring break. A raunchy sex comedy for these Disney girls looking to let loose. I don’t think the advertising was meant to be deceitful, it just was impossible to convey what this film was truly about.
But with any amount of research (which most moviegoers will not do), you know you’re going to be in for something else. Director Harmony Korine has a slate of weird movies in his roster, from “Trash Humpers” to “Mister Lonely” to “Gummo.” These are strange films.
Spring Breakers is a strange, strange film.
The first turn, which will tell audiences that the film isn’t what they expect, happens in the opening moments. Short on cash for a spring break trip, Candy (Hudgens), Britt (Benson) and Cotty (Harmony’s wife, Rachel Korine) rob a local chicken shack for the necessary funds. Their fourth friend, the church-going Faith (Gomez) doesn’t ask a lot of questions, and allows herself to be dragged down to south Florida for a raucous good time after the money is secured.
And I do mean raucous. A solid third of the film involves booty shaking and beer-soaked boob jiggling, many of which were shot using actual spring breakers, I’m told. The movie is a constant parade of flesh, but not exactly in a titillating way. It’s shot the way you might see a nature documentary studying animals in their natural habitat would be. The mating rituals of the college aged human.
The second turn is the one I saw coming. After being arrested for being in the presence of copious amounts of drugs, the quartet of girls are bailed out by Alien (James Franco). He’s a rapper/drug lord/notorious individual who is the personification of everything you’ve ever thought of when picturing the word “sleaze.” He has a platinum grill, on both his teeth and his pimped out Camaro. He’s covered in nasty tattoos and speaks a language that could barely be classified as English. And he’s positioned himself as these girl’s knight in shining armor. Now, they owe him.
The third turn, the prestige if you will, is one that I won’t get into for fear of ruining the movie. Suffice to say it’s the one that fooled even me, and what propels the film from watchable to astonishingly bizarre. Gomez’s Faith is in tears, wanting to go home as any girl would trapped in a Florida ghetto with a character like Alien, but all isn’t what it seems. Though the film appears to want you to wait until one or all of these girls gets raped and murdered, that isn’t where things are going.
Rather, Spring Breakers blossoms in yet another unexpected direction. Alien’s role shifts in the story, as does the girls’. The second half of the movie is so wonderfully weird, it actually contains a James Franco cover of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” as girls dance around him wearing pink unicorn ski masks, caressing assault weapons. For me, it was the turning point where the film became something extraordinary.
It’s not perfect. I took issue with the film setting up Faith as a central figure to either be corrupted or destroyed, but the film abandons her midway through. It’s an odd set up, and she’s a loose end that’s left hanging as the film evolves to the point where she wouldn’t fit in with all the weirdness.
For a film about the vulgarity and excess of both spring break and eventually “thug life,” it really is gorgeously shot and incredibly well acted. When she is in the film, Gomez shows real chops as the terrified Faith, and her compatriots prove to excel at being devious. As for Alien? This is probably the best performance I’ve ever seen out of James Franco, who pushes himself to the brink of complete insanity to make the character something we’ve never seen before. It’s truly phenomenal work on his part.
At the end of the film, I could tell 80% of the audience hated it. Confused teenage girls who came to see their idols party it up couldn’t understand what they had just witnessed. The guys they brought with them extolled the stupidity of the film as they left the theater. Some even shouted down those who dared to applaud at the end.
But not me, I was grinning, ear to ear and clapping my hands regardless. Spring Breakers is wonderfully weird, and a true cinematic surprise. It takes turn after turn after turn you aren’t expecting, and by the end, you’re so far down the rabbit hole, you just have to sit back and enjoy yourself.
4.5 out of 5 stars
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