The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers is the darkest, most disturbing movie ever made about spring break – and that's a good thing. What a strange ritual spring break is. College students head to the beach for a week of revelry that often includes drinking, drug use, and/or unleashed sexuality. It is, for many, one last gasp of youth before becoming an Adult and entering the Real World. At the same time, something about spring break has always seemed a little sinister to me. Whenever people throw caution to the wind and start liberating their darkest impulses, the potential for something scary to happen is always right on the surface. The lead characters in Spring Breakers learn this the hard way.

This is the story of four college-age girls. Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are all a bit on the wild side. Faith (Selena Gomez) is more conservative and a practicing Christian. All of them have something in common: they are privileged kids who think they have nothing. That they can get an education and make something of their lives seems boring to them. They yearn for excitement. This is supposed to come in the form of a trip to Florida for spring break, but when they pool their money, it turns out they don't have nearly enough. Candy, Brit, and Cotty decide to rob a chicken restaurant for the money. “Pretend you're playing a videogame. Act like you're in a movie,” one of them says, trying to pump up the other two. They do, and they instantly have enough for everyone to go on the trip. Once in Florida, they indulge in all kinds of bad behavior, thinking it's fun. Then they get arrested for the robbery and are bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a rapper/drug dealer who believes they're the right people to help him commit some crimes. Alien, however, is in the middle of a drug war with another dealer named Archie (Gucci Mane). Suddenly, the girls' playtime becomes all too real.

Spring Breakers is a scathing indictment of a generation led to believe that being a bad-ass and having a screw-it attitude is admirable. Like a lot of young people today, the girls appear to have been influenced by entertainment that portrays “gangsta” life as the ultimate in coolness. It is just as shocking to them as it is to us how easily they assume these gangsta roles when robbing the restaurant. To them, it is play-acting, a form of pretend that seems far more romantic than their actual day-to-day existences. They don't see that there are repercussions to their actions, nor do they appreciate the more legitimate opportunities that they have in front of them. Alien is playing too, although he doesn't realize it. Living in a world where money, guns, and the ability to run Scarface on a loop in your home are status symbols, he talks a good game, yet seems on a different level than the truly frightening Archie. Spring Breakers is most definitely a hard-R picture, as it is filled with sex, violence, nudity, and drug use. But those things are all here to show how deeply off-track the girls get after they enter Alien's orbit. They come to find out that they are not as bad-ass as they think they are.

The movie was written and directed by Harmony Korine, the avant garde bad boy of independent cinema. His last effort, Trash Humpers, was a shot-on-VHS tale of people wearing old man masks and pretending to fornicate with garbage cans. Spring Breakers has less in common with that film and more with 1995's Kids, which he wrote. Both movies take an unvarnished look at young people doing foolishly dangerous things. Korine's ambitions have matured since then, showing deeper interest in thematic development. This new work suggests that spring break is a socially accepted version of the hedonism and moral abandonment that fuels the criminal underworld. Drugs are a release in one world, a business in the other. Sexual degradation is a factor in both, and both rely on individuals being willing to compromise their morals in order to reap the full benefits. This provocative idea permeates the film, giving it a haunting, unsettling vibe.

Korine is very innovative in his storytelling style. You will not find many normal scenes in this film. Instead, we often get snippets of moments, patched together and with dialogue laid over top. This, combined with the bright day-glo color scheme, gives Spring Breakers an almost dream-like quality that suits the subject matter. It's as though the girls' warped fantasies have come to life and enveloped them. Korine's show-stopper is the robbery itself, which we see from inside the getaway car as it circles the building, allowing us to peer into the windows. The contrast between how the girls are acting inside and how the patrons cower in fear serves to criticize their behavior. For all the depraved things that happen, the movie has a decidedly moral center.

All the performances are good, but James Franco is the real standout. Sporting dreadlocks, tattoos, and grillz, he creates a humorously memorable character. He even has his own catch phrase: “Spring break for-eveh!” It is also worth mentioning that the casting of former Disney princesses Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens was a masterstroke. These young women bring a certain celebrity baggage with them – baggage that is promptly blown to smithereens. This works to the film's advantage, as it makes Candy and Faith's decent into debauchery even more shocking.

I get an intense tingly feeling whenever I see a great movie; I had that feeling as Spring Breakers' end credits began to roll. The film is entertaining as a fearless, balls-to-the-wall piece of art, yet it also works marvelously as social commentary. There is a powerful moment of irony in the final five minutes, as what we hear being spoken on the soundtrack proves to be at direct odds with what we're watching on the screen. It is a sequence that represents the deluded ideals of too many young people today, who would rather prove themselves to the world through misbehavior than through true accomplishment. Provocative and ultimately poignant, Spring Breakers is an all-around stunner.

( out of four)

Spring Breakers is rated R for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

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