This Is Not What I Signed Up For

21 Mar

spring_breakers_posterOh, spring break.

The week when college kids head to warmer places and let their inhibitions run wild.

This rite of passage sounds so idyllic to so many people that it’s become a cliché over the years — one that’s played out in movies such as Where the Boys Are, The Real Cancun, and From Justin to Kelly, to name just three.

But whereas those movies have shown a mostly chaste version of what goes on when you put thousands of college kids together under the hot sun, add alcohol, and mix it all together, Harmony Korine’s latest film, Spring Breakers, gives a much different, much darker version of events.

Oh boy, does it.

The very first frames show us some of those clichéd images of nubile young co-eds, topless or barely clothed, in St. Pete Beach, Fla., eating popsicles, having beer poured all over them, and having a great time. Woo hoo!!

spring-breakers-castThose pictures are juxtaposed quite quickly with ones on a college campus, where pot smoke lingers in the air, and four bored students (played by Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Rachel Korine) are desperate to get away and let loose. Don’t call them sexpots: These girls are trashy and dangerous — even Gomez’s Faith, the good girl of the group. When she’s not attending church, she talking about how this spring break trip will be “way more than just a good time.” It will be her chance “to see something different.”

Faith is ready, but the other girls are short on cash, so the three of them decide to rob a local restaurant at gunpoint. The act, brilliantly filmed mostly from the perspective of the getaway car, is stunning for the ease with which they pull it off, and it emboldens the girls.

But they’re not done yet. After getting arrested in Florida, the four meet Alien (an all-in James Franco), the cornrowed, rapper cum drug dealer who takes them under his wing, brings them into his blissed-out world, and trains them to be his gangsta sidekicks in a conflict with a rival (played by the rapper Gucci Mane). And even though Alien has a penchant for saying “Spring break … forever,” it’s here that Spring Breakers really becomes less of a party movie and more of a crime film.

Think of it as a Natural Born Killers of sorts for Generation Y.

spring-breakers-courtKorine (Kids, Gummo) has made an audacious, candy-colored but bleak-hearted saga of bad girls gone worse, and filled it with spectacularly rendered and unapologetic debauchery. Parts of the movie will make you sit in your seat shaking your head, and others will have you at the edge wondering how much further Korine will push his characters — and how much more of it you can stand.

It’s not for everyone. As Faith says at one point when things have spiraled out of control for her, “This is not what I signed up for.”

Tell me about it.

And yet, for all its depravity, Spring Breakers can’t be easily dismissed as trash. That’s because it’s a skillfully made film — about the sad state of this younger generation, or the dangers of tapping into your worst instincts, perhaps — made by a twisted filmmaker who is fully invested in the world he’s created. And Korine makes the most of his opportunity. Get on board, or just stay home.

The way he fetishizes guns, the way scenes simulate the sensation of being high, the way Alien and the girls sing a whacked-out version of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” … it’s all very out there.

spring-breakers-girlsThe camerawork, heavy on leering, pervy close-ups, will make you uncomfortable. And the sound design, featuring a score by Cliff Martinez (Contagion) and Skrillex, occasional voiceover narration that makes the film feel like the work of a deranged Terrence Malick, and the frequent sound of guns being cocked, goes from dreamy to nightmarish with wild abandon, effectively keeping you hypnotized by the on-screen action.

The lead actresses … well, let’s just say Hudgens and Gomez won’t be working for Disney again anytime soon. A least Gomez gets to play a good girl who wants to be bad. It’s a shocker to see the till-now virginal Hudgens (High School Musical) simulating fellatio with a penis she draws during a class, and then later, participating in a threesome that makes the one in Wild Things look tame.

And Franco, better here than he is in Oz the Great and Powerful, keeps us guessing with a mesmerizing performance that is just on the right side of cray. It’s a good thing this movie came out after that Wizard of Oz prequel, otherwise I think his reviews may have been even worse.

By the final scene, when the girls, dressed in day-glo bikinis and wearing ski masks, show all they’ve learned from Alien, it’s over-the-top and hysterical in its ridiculousness … but that’s kind of the point.

Spring Breakers is a completely absurd movie, an art house breakout that tweaks expectations and blows them away with glee. You may like it or you may hate it, but you won’t soon forget it.

I’m somewhere in the middle. When the film was over, I was energized, but felt like I needed a shower to wipe off the filth.

Spring Breakers gets a B.

Are your spring break memories anywhere near this crazy? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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3 Responses to “This Is Not What I Signed Up For”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] like Spring Breakers earlier this year, The Bling Ring is intended to be a movie about today, and about how teens go to […]

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    […] like Spring Breakers earlier this year, The Bling Ring is intended to be a movie about today, and about how teens go to […]

  3. 2013 Was a Lucky Year for the Movies | Martin's Musings - December 30, 2013

    […] year James Franco’s best performance was in a movie about Spring Break depravity, not the Wizard of Oz prequel — or even the movie where he played himself (a version of himself, […]

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