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Spring Breakers A Refreshing Change-of-Pace

Spring Breakers
Written and directed by Harmony Korine
Annapurna, 2013

Did any movie coming out this year look both intriguing and possibly awful more than Spring Breakers, a movie that contains Disney pop queen princesses Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens and Pretty Little Liars‘ Ashley Benson, along with Korine’s wife Rachel?  It looked like it could be a possibly-desperate attempt for young starlets to show they have acting chops/street cred, while James Franco continues his unusual oddball journey as someone who might be one of the only genuine “actors” we have going these days.  I mean, this movie will be playing alongside Oz: The Great and Powerful in many theatres.  Try not to let your jaw drop at how different these characters Franco plays are.

Another wild card here is Harmony Korine, who has a strange cult following, but shot into moviegoers’ consciousness with his script for Kids back in 1995.  He’s got movies on his filmography that are vaguely familiar, but you may not have seen them: Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, and the super-low-budget WTF? indie Trash Humpers, which I only saw the preview for.

Spring Breakers starts like a movie focused on Spring Break should: hot gals and guys enjoying themselves on the beach, getting drunk, and going entirely crazy.  But despite Korine’s leering camera at all the flesh onscreen, there is something…off.  It could be that Skrillex song, “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” which at times sounds hopeful and sci-fi and like you walked into a snuff film all of the sudden.

Gomez plays Faith, a girl attends a lot of churchy college functions, and looks like she’s lost most of the time.  She has three friends who go to school with her who obviously broke off from her path.  Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson), and Cotty (Korine) all want to go on spring break somewhere down in Florida but don’t have the money, so they (without Faith) decide to knock over a chicken shack.  Not long after, they’re on the beach and partying, with all the alcohol and drugs and horny dudes four young college girls can handle.  But, ultimate buzzkill, they are arrested at one of these parties and the fun stops…until a rapper named Alien (Franco) busts them out.

Alien is obviously a little dangerous.  His metallic grill showing every time he gives his wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing smile, neighbored by twins who look greasy and also threatening.  Alien is obviously a wannabe gangster of some sort.  And he wants to recruit the girls for what will end up being a turf war with someone who used to be his best friend, Archie (Gucci Mane).

What might be surprising to you is that, for the most part, these young women don’t play victims.  We’ve seen them doing bad things.  You see them owning up to the fact that they may be bad people.  And it’s not the whole group.  What’s good about a filmmaker like Korine is that he doesn’t make everyone’s destiny obvious, and much like The Wire did with some characters during its run, doesn’t romanticize characters’ fates.

The movie is told with an extremely arty fragmented style, which will be poison for many people who might want to watch this for the possible skin factor.  The movie is not told out of order, per se, but it is told in the “present” with multiple skips back and forth through a similar time period.  For instance, you’ll see the girls in a pool, then you’ll see those same girls in a completely different place getting caught in some other episode, and then back to the pool, and so on.  It’s an interesting technique that can be quite dreamlike at times.

James Franco, who has been getting great reviews for his portrayal of Alien, is as good as advertised.  His character, even, is not exactly predictable either.  So, he steals the movie.  The main problem with the four women in the movie, despite an empowerment we rarely see in a story that could have easily been “The Natalee Holloway Story,” is that there isn’t much else that we get to see of them other than they’re wanting to party and might want to get into some trouble.  There’s a distance Korine keeps from the girls where we never really get to see different sides to them, which is slightly disappointing in a movie that is as progressive as this.

In all, though, I enjoyed the very uniqueness of this film.  It’s a movie far better than its trailer, which made it look like it might be Domino all over again, only with Disney starlets.  Another interesting film from the upstart studio Annapurna, which had one of the most interesting up-and-down rides in film last year.  Lots of critical success and not much box office, which is probably what we’re looking at here, unfortunately.

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