' ' Cinema Romantico: Spring Breakers

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring Breakers

Director Harmony Korine’s latest foray into God-knows-whatism opens with a roughly two minute montage on a Florida beach of iniquity, the camera making a pass at a plethora of well-toned and tanned twenty-somethings gulping from beer bongs and taking bong hits, drinking and gyrating, gyrating and drinking, and even sucking on red/white/blue popsicles in the manner of scantily clad GQ cover girl Kate Upton whose vapid if elemental sexuality probably makes her Korine’s queen. This does not merely set the sweat-glistened exploitative stage but underscores the style Korine employs throughout.

He is far less interested in some sort of assured narrative than he is in the image, returning to the same ones of interchangeable spring breakers (in various stages of undress) again and again, interlaced with dialogue in voiceover, often words we have already heard at another point in the film, letting it all coalesce. The reference may irritate the hoity-toity but it’s akin to Terrence Malick – that is, if Malick had come of age watching Daisy Fuentes hosting MTV Spring Break.

The plot turns on a quartet of photogenic college females yearning to break free from their dormitory/classroom shackles and aim due south for the Sunshine State and spring break, the most wonderful time of the year. A problem emerges: they have no cash. Thus, they hatch a scheme and decide to rob a bank – er, a Chicken Shack restaurant. Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine), so intertwined with one another they may as well exist as a single entity, armed with pink skimasks and squirt guns, wage terror and make off with stacks of cash to fund their party-hardy jihad. We see this robbery twice at different points and from different points of view and what’s telling is Korine’s blasé attitude toward the whole affair. We are conditioned to expect cinematic comeuppance for this Skrillex-era Bonnie, Clyde and Buck but it never really happens. You know what they say – it’s only illegal if you get caught. 

Our three mouseketeers then haul their winnings back to their pious pal Faith (Selena Gomez), a churchgoing soul who rather quickly and easily succumbs to temptation, wiggles into a string bikini with the rest and takes a walk on the wild side while making phone calls home to her Grandma and espousing about how “beautiful” everything and everyone is while Korine “slyly” pairs these monologues with shots like, say, the gal pals, uh, relieving themselves post too many Corona Lights. In fact, all of Faith’s confessions come across absurdly shallow but I dare say that’s the intention. A person who has never been drunk getting drunk for the first time would spout the sort of inane platitudes Faith spouts.

It would seem Faith is meant as the audience’s through-line, the connecting tissue to beginning and end, but midway through Alien, a cornrowed white gangsta and wannabe rapper, enters the ladies’ lives, becoming their automatic weapon-sporting Buddha and leading them astray even as he leads them to a skewed version of enlightenment. Alien is played by a wholly committed James Franco, assuming gold teeth and zestfully overdoing every line and gesture. He is so invested that you may have trouble deducing whether he is explicitly mocking the type of person he is playing or if he is entirely sincere and utterly embracing the persona (which is kind of what the movie itself is doing). His brazenness, in fact, leaves the four girls in his wake. Perhaps Benson and Hudgens sorta rise to the challenge but perhaps that is because they are shooting for the same sorta psycho. 

The movie turns again when Alien winds up in a showdown with his gangsta mentor (Gucci Mane) in a bit of plotting that appears out of thin air simply to provide Spring Breakers with dramatic closure. The mentor is paper-thin, barely a character, but then no one here is really a character. How can you have actual characters when the majority of your movie is a montage? The ever clever Korine knows real characters demand real consequences and real lessons and who in their right mind goes on spring break worried about consequences and lessons?

So, with such superfluous and conscienceless characters running amok, we enter that out-of-date danger zone of what wondering why we “care” about these people. The recurring mantra of Spring Breakers, repeated most often in Franco’s put-upon whisper, is “Spring break forever, y’all.” Spring break itself is nothing if not shallow. The characters are shallow. Korine’s viewpoint throughout is shallow. But the one thing you can’t say about Korine or his characters or all those writhing spring breakers obliterating themselves on booze is that they aren’t wholly committed to their end game.

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