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Monday, March 25, 2013
Springtime For Gangsta (As Nasty As They)
Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, Vanessa
Hudgens, Rachel Korine in Harmony Korine's thriller "Spring Breakers".
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers", a dizzying, nerve-jangling discomfort, is
pure dream fantasy.
In his thrilling satire laced with hypnotic fever, Mr. Korine lays out a clash
of pop cultural ambitions (or realities) early on. There's sunny, topless
raunchy teens on Florida beaches doing every which thing with beer one can
imagine while an electro beat soundtrack assaults our senses. The image
collides with the grainy reality of four white college girls who gravitate to
violence in order to join their brethren in the Sunshine State. This
second reality is fueled by gangsta rap culture the beats of which are
incorporated into a Robert De Niro Max Cady-like swamp thing charmer in the
intentionally-named Alien (an unrecognizable James Franco), a part-time rapper
full-time drug and crime "lord" who seduces the foursome into his empire.
Mr. Korine ("Gummo", "Trash Humpers", writer of "Kids") has long captured a
young generation's sense of alienation and aimlessness, and arguably punctures
through the surface of such despair and anti-social behavior better than any
American filmmaker around. "Spring Breakers" showcases sex, nudity and
drug use but in ways that are nauseating rather than arousing or alluring.
All of these things are presented as the film's unyielding white noise,
calculated to cause maximum distress not pleasure.
In crafting "Spring Breakers" Mr. Korine spares no blushes with the great
American "menage et deux" of sex and violence, uniting them in powerful,
suspenseful fashion. He uses the sound effects of gun barrel locks and
reloads as a disturbing anthem that persists throughout. I don't believe
it's meant to be an overbearing device as much as it is the inevitable signal of
the film's destination.
"Spring Breakers" is part-fairy tale, part-fable, with Faith (Selena Gomez), a
Bible-educated student, expressing reservations about being in Florida after
events take a frightening turn. Faith struggles with peer pressure and gut
feelings before making a key decision. Others are too deep in the fantasy
of their own movie, one which "Spring Breakers" conjures as a hybrid of casting
couch and shooting star subversion for two of the women in a memorable bedroom
One of the things that makes "Spring Breakers" appealing is its four women,
specifically because the actresses who play them have, for the most part,
positive on and off-screen images. Relationships aside, Vanessa Hudgens
(who plays Candy) was a Disney staple in the innocent, fun loving "High School
Musical" films. Miss Gomez featured in "Hannah Montana" on TV. Yet
in Mr. Korine's film one character's name interestingly may evoke a
once-turbulent celebrity like Britney Spears (Ashley Benson plays Brit.)
Is the director commenting on the relentlessness of celebrity and its attendant
horrors? The contrast between the actresses and their characters in this
instance makes the onscreen types' growing predicament more horrific even as
they writhe around suggestively in semi-nudeness -- somewhere between daring
girl and full-bodied woman -- with gymnastic brio.
Alien himself (a superbly mocking and haunting Mr. Franco) was presumably like
these four women at one point: exasperated, alienated, failing and
troubled, seeking something greater from American society than what it spoonfed
him. Judging from the looks of things, he found it, and at a high price.
Alien is much smaller in his own mind than he thinks, and the arsenal of weapons
at his disposal reinforces the gulf between his self-aggrandizement (as promoted
in gangsta rap) and his reality. Alien champions American film pop culture
figures like Tony Montana and to a lesser extent Cody Jarrett but has the
ambition of neither. Alien's manhood is questioned and challenged, most
frequently by the young women themselves. "You're scared, aren't you?",
one repeatedly taunts.
An especially important scene the director (perhaps unintentionally) hits home
with is an innocuous one early on when two of the women draw phallic pictures in
a history class as a professor can be heard lecturing on the enslavement of
blacks in the U.S. and the civil rights movement. It's a subtle scene, and
Mr. Korine may or may not be suggesting that slavery has much to do with how
some blacks become part of the urban subculture of violence in America.
(Incidentally, no black faces are visible in the professor's classroom, at least
as I recall.)
Like swaths of today's iPad generation, the two students in the scene described
above are oblivious to American history. Perhaps subconsciously, not
unlike some white rappers (Vanilla Ice), musicians (Joss Stone) and filmmakers
(Quentin Tarantino) in other areas of black music or urban hip culture, the
women of "Spring Breakers" tap into or appropriate a subculture of romanticized
imagery and "thug" glamour to gain self-empowerment however empty and false,
following a successful robbery that leaves the women craving more. Some of
the women in "Spring Breakers" desperately want to be something they are not.
At one point some they even dress like a skimpier version of the Russian rebel
rockers Pussy Riot. The latter term could be given to a couple of the
women in the film, rebels in their own right against the whole idea of escapism.
A climactic scene emphasizes how real the life these spring break women may be
craving is, complete with the overweight women who are part of its landscape.
Will Brit and Candy (Ashley Benson) end up this way? We often hear Candy
in droll, sarcastic voiceover on the phone telling her mother (whom we never
see) that she's "having the time of her life" during spring break. Where
are these women's parents?
"Spring Breakers" doesn't have a very active narrative but has unyielding
visceral energy. Characters don't evolve as much as they escape from or
disappear into the Florida of Miami native sex rap group 2 Live Crew and the
Florida of the murder of Trayvon Martin. Make no mistake, Mr. Korine cuts
deep, in a longer than usual 90-minute experience that isn't for everyone -- or
even those who have a certain notion of spring break in America -- but he gets
results and necessarily gets to your disposition.
Also with: Gucci Mane, Heather Morris, Lee Irby, Emma Holzer, Ash Lendzion.
"Spring Breakers", which expanded its release on Friday across the U.S. and Canada, is rated
R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for
strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug
use and violence throughout.
The film's running time is one hour and 34 minutes.
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