Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers - ***

Directed by: Harmony Korine

Starring: Venessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, James Franco, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Gucci Mane

Review: Lights. Breasts. Sand. Booze. Water. Waves. Money. Drugs. Rap. Sex. Limits. Gluttony. Pride.  ‘Spring Breakers’ is about all of these things and none of these things.  Like a flag swirling in a harsh wind, the full picture is hard to see, but you will get snippets of every little piece. Some longer than others, and not always together, but all will be revealed.
Like a rite of passage every March brings with it another spring break, a cauldron of false hope wrapped in temptation. Only this rite doesn’t involve a test of strength or of acumen, but reality.  How far are some willing to let reality go?  On a space station orbiting above Earth, how long are some willing to let themselves tether out?  Some will pull back on the cord before it even goes taut. Some will let it completely unfurl, almost to the point of snapping, before coiling themselves back to safety.  Some will let it go all the way and then cut it themselves.  

Reality is a tensile object.  A fickle mistress that affects the millenial generation insomuch as reality only exists to the extent of the moment you’re in.  Only problem is that whatever reality that is, some other reality somewhere else is always better.  Or at least, you can convince yourself of such things.  It’s a blessing and a curse of the generation to never settle.  Seeing their forebearers chug through life putting some facets of happiness aside in order to provide for their families and complete a job well done has only gone to make sure they never have to compromise on anything.

While spring break was around long before this generation came of age, it had never been perfected.  Saving all year, consuming all thoughts, and promising an escape from real life, even if only for a few days, means hardly anything can stop a determined group of youngsters--like our four “ready to get out” main characters--ready to stand toe-to-toe with a constant barrage of bad decisions.

Everyone likes an escape from the pressure and whatever mundanities haunt their life.  For most, spring break represents a momentary reprieve, to drown your sorrows in booze and salacious practice.  For others, it’s a full jailbreak.  Everyday life isn’t set down for a moment to be picked up at a later date, but tossed out the window on the party bus to a re-creation of yourself into anybody you want to be.

And such things don’t come without a gatekeeper or a price.  Enter: Alien (Franco).  When the crew gets into trouble Alien is there to help them out and lead them to a place that could either be gehenna or the Promised Land.  It’s ultimately the same place, but destination in this case is a result of perception.  With Alien, spring break isn’t a week-long trip to an alternate universe, but a world unto it’s own.  One to bring these girls along to inhabit with new “friends” to make, new experiences to have, new smells, new sights, new sounds, and most of all new rules.  

The frenetic--yet at times poetic--free association pacing of the film suggests a learning curve for their new world.  But things aren’t neatly explained at the front to be tied with a bow and certificate of completion.  Their new universe is learn-as-you-go.  How quickly you accept and learn these rules decides how long you will last in this new reality.  And some are easier to accept than others.

Like all exploitation ‘Spring Breakers’ exists to get you out of your comfort zone.  Within the first five minutes, before the introduction of the main characters even occurs we find ourselves confronted with all the debauchery of this yearly ritual in all it’s unabashed glory.  Topless, booze soaked women bathe in the sun seductively devouring suggestive looking popsicles.  Hip-hop music blares as young co-eds bounce in unison to what is surely their favorite song, at least in that moment.  Everything is to the limit.  Everything is excess.  Nothing is like the “normal world.”

And the “normal world” is exactly what we’re treated to next as we shift to the boring college campus life of our four would-be heroines.  They are all similar enough--save for Faith (Gomez) the prayer group-going “teacher’s pet” of the bunch--with the commonality of being sick of their surroundings.  Before it becomes a reality spring break is unbridled hope.  It’s an idea, festering with the promise of sights unseen and experiences not yet imagined.  The possibilities are endless.  And all roads lead to a destination far better than the one they’re currently dwelling in.

When the group is too short on money to even get to Spring Break, they take the first step down the proverbial “slippery slope.”  A flawless robbery of a local diner gives them an improper sense of invincibility, power, and the irresistible taste of something new and fresh.  In many ways their fate was settled the moment they stepped outside that diner into their getaway car.  At this fork in the road they had chosen their path.  The only question left was how far each of them were ready to go and who would be there to guide them in this video game-like world that was concurrently more real than anything they had experienced, yet not real at all.

As Alien keeps reminding them they can leave anytime they want.  They can choose to put the controller down or keep dreaming.  The choice is up to them but there’s no half way.  There’s a line, and once its crossed it can’t be uncrossed.  

In many ways Alien represents the idea.  Money, power, no consequences, a sense of invincibility, and freedom from all things that tether him to the real world.  His two mantras permeate the film and serve as constant subliminal reminders of his universe: “spring break forever,” and “look at my s***.”  Along with the constant sound of a gun loading a bullet into its chamber--with a methodical chk-chnk in nearly every scene transition--these serve as constant reminders how people get lured into this life and the consequences therein.

Perhaps where the movie is most successful is in its ability to completely immerse us in the alternate reality of ‘spring break.’  Both the common co-ed version and the lifestyle ‘spring break forever’ version that Alien knows.  Like an abstract painter director Harmony Korine’s brush sets his canvas ablaze with strokes that often don’t seem to have a purpose until the painting comes together as one final piece.  There are bits of brilliance abound.  The full picture may not be museum worthy, but it’s pleasing enough to the eye.  

As a visceral experience it was something to behold.  As exploitation it was the highest art form.  As entertainment it was decent. As moving cinema it’s reach was bigger than its grasp.  As a film overall, it was an interesting attempt to dissect a cultural phenomenon explored through the world’s current--but certainly not last--”lost generation.”

And a word of warning: the term “exploitation” isn’t used lightly here.  The easily offended need not apply. It’s a specific set of film-goer that will enjoy this experience, but for those that will there is certainly existential glee to be had if one is so inclined.  It’s in-your-face, unapologetic look at the consequences of girls gone wild will make you uncomfortable and challenge your conventions.  But just as the main characters do, the movie will take you as far past the line as you want to go, and it’s up to you to decide how far along you will stay for the ride.  

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