Spring Breakers : You can get the girl out of Disney, but…

by Bertille de Lestrade

Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens in Spring Breakers

Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens in Spring Breakers

Who can honestly say they’re not the slightest bit curious about Harmony Korine’s latest film, Spring Breakers ? I certainly couldn’t. I’m an eternal optimist.

I should have known better.

I shouldn’t have taken Lena Dunham’s word for it.

Have you watched the trailer ? It’s pretty much the gist. The movie actually didn’t feel a lot longer than that, which I suppose is not completely a bad thing. Four bored college girls rob a restaurant so they can realize their dream and escape the dull life they’re leading, in other words, go on a proper Florida spring break. When things get out of hand after mucho calor and all kinds of craziness, they’re bailed out of jail by a big time drug dealer who makes them his little naughty-teen personal army. That’s really all there is to it.

You don’t get bored. You don’t sigh or mentally curse the world, or the director, or anyone, although the overflow of boobs and butts and cash and guns wears off pretty quickly, if not instantly for some of us. You nod along the decent soundtrack. You just wait for something to happen, but I’m sorry to report it barely does.

Let’s start with the obvious : Korine didn’t cast his four heroines randomly. Brit, Faith, Candy and Cotty (I really should have known better) are respectively played by Ashley Benson (the least annoying character of another girly quartet in the series Pretty Little Liars) Selena Gomez (need I introduce the little monster who still looks and talks like a toddler ?) Vanessa Hudgens (previously seen in High School Musical and Neutrogena ads, enough said) and Rachel Korine, who, I hoped to believe, didn’t only get the part because she’s married to the director. It’s a bit harsh, I know, but let me explain. Casting Disney girls for something trashier than 7th Heaven or Another Cinderella Story is one thing ; it would be acceptable and a bold bet, should it not only rely on pretty faces and firm little bodies, if the actresses in question brought something real and truly edgy to the table – dare I say, acting ?- but that certainly didn’t happen here either.

Spring Breaker minimalist poster

The contrast between the girly-girl, BBF forever, unicorns-in-meadows dimension they ooze and the violent, depraved, more sexual turn they take in the film could have been interesting if they had given their characters some –any- kind of depth. A bit of substance. Something. Robbing a restaurant with a hammer and a tiny pink satchel on your back could have been insanely rock’n’roll. Here, it is simply annoying on top of being unrealistic. So, director’s orders or mere lack of talent and creativity ?  These girls gather an incredible amount of clichés, including the constant squealing and squeaking ( which reminded me of the ‘Whoooo girls’ in How I Met Your Mother) and the calling everyone « bitches », which would be more fun and enjoyable if we got beyond the tease of young, pretty things, and deeper into their individual personalities, their motive, their true desires. Because that’s all they do, tease, and I was appalled to see no difference between their acting and their behaviour on promotional talk-shows.

It’s like they couldn’t own up to it, like they dreaded the thought of their 12 year old fans somehow making it to the dark room and seeing them perform fake blow-jobs or shoot people. So they giggled. A lot. But again, was that all intended by the director ? Or couldn’t Korine own up to what he had initially wanted either? I don’t even want to get to a phoney gender debate on what it all says about young girls,  please, we indulge in this kind of theories way too much as it is these days. I believe an artist is free to tell the story he wants to tell and address  what he wants to address without having to justify his every position on every potentially controversial subject, but then again, he still needs a genuine perspective to do so !

In two scenes of the film that mark the relative evolution of the story, the four girls perform Britney Spears songs, starting with Baby One More Time. Now, we all remember the video clip where miss Spears appeared as a mischievous school girl, and seeing our little Disney crew enthusiastically relate to that is not only interesting because of the polemic that surrounded that song, but because of what happened to Britney Spears along the way and the destructive games she played with her own image ; does the movie suggest the start of a new era in which America’s sweethearts are allowed to unzip the good girls’ costume and strip down to naughtier figures without caring about the consequences ? « Hey bitches, we can do it now, no one will give a damn! » or so it seems to declare. But I’m afraid the same problem applies :  to do that, more swagger was in order. Yes, I said « swagger », and I won’t take it back.

James Franco in Spring Breakers

James Franco in Spring Breakers

The second Britney song, illustrating a more nostalgic period, is Everytime performed by the four girls and their new badass friend Alien, (Mister James Franco) on his outdoors white piano at sunset, adding to the opulent gangster style of it all. Now, that’s a good scene, and we mostly owe it to Franco, who didn’t have anything to prove but proves it anyway. The man is good, funny and charismatic, even with a mouth that looks like the inside of a brand new washing machine, and that says a lot. His character does have substance and style, good lines, proper focus. Aside from his drug dealer status, he’s an orator, a narrator, the man at the very top in the cult of « having fun&being happy » that the girls are desperate to belong to. We’d almost buy the whole « spring break forever, bitches » philosophy he has the mission to inspire and represent. We’d almost see the poetry and wisdom he seems to find in his infernal lifestyle.  He’s a real guru with a touch of Tony Montana ( there was no need for posters or mention of the famous film, Franco pulls it off like a big boy, BTW).

While the girls seem to utter 35 words each during the whole movie, with some of them running away like it was already too much for both actresses and characters, Franco brings it all out, he’s just there, present, raw, acting.  He’s the real star of the movie, no doubt about that. He would almost make us forget the absence of a solid scenario, that Korine hides pretty well behind his undeniable talent for aesthetism. That couldn’t be missed in his 2007 Mister Lonely, a vivid, beautiful movie that proved a real knack for visual style and camera work. On that level, Korine definitely strikes again with Spring Breakers, where he painted truly enjoyable scenes, this time going for more urban colors and Florida-fluo style. Unfortunately, Mister Lonely already presented some similar flaws when it comes to telling a story. Flabby, for sure. But promising, with integrity and originality.  That’s why I thought Spring Breakers might turn out to be a good surprise. That’s why I didn’t want to believe Korine would just cast sexy young girls and expose too much flesh just for the sake of casting sexy young girls and expose too much flesh. Hey, I wasn’t expecting scrabble and under-the-knee skirts, but bikinis in a court room, seriously ? That’s not where the cheek should have been.

Oh well, I’m not giving up hope yet Mr Korine! As I said, I’m an eternal optimist, and you might just be an artist with a weakness for cute actresses.

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