Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Why couldn't they just make a good movie of it?" - Spring Breakers

My daughter Jane’s idea of heaven would be Disneyland populated by all the Disney Channel stars from Hilary Duff to the present, and they would all be friends with her and have a great time. No, my daughter is not fourteen. She is twenty-five and she has Down syndrome. and her heart is always innocent and pure, and if a genie in a bottle gave her a wish, she would be Selena Gomez. So, you can imagine, months ago when she heard that a movie called Spring Breakers with Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens would be released this month, she was really excited. Even I was expecting it to be a light-hearted frolic like the genuinely entertaining Monte Carlo, which came out in 2011. But when I learned it was R-rated, I told Jane to watch the preview on her laptop, and she came to me later and said, disappointedly, “I don’t want to see that movie.” But I did.

In some ways, Spring Breakers is Dante’s Inferno for the 21st century. Faith (Selena Gomez of Wizards of Waverly Place), an ambivalent Christian fundamentalist, follows temptation in the form of her three college friends, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine) down the primrose path to ruin: spring break in St. Petersburg, Florida. At first, it’s just sin in the shape of alcohol and drugs, but then Faith learns that her friends robbed a restaurant with water guns and a sledge hammer in order to finance the trip, and she realizes that her friends are dangerous. Indeed, they may be more dangerous than Alien, the ghetto-raised rapper/drug lord/gangsta wannabe who bails the girls out of jail and then introduces them to a scary world of drugs and guns and feuding drug lords.

After a tedious amount of the kind of spring break debauchery you can see on reality TV, tit shots and girls making out with girls, the film gets grave and gritty, and I have to say that James Franco redeems himself for his horrid performance in Oz the Great and Powerful by doing a good job of playing Alien, a dangerous lunatic drunk on the veneer of power he derives from the wads of cash and the arsenal of guns he has piled up. He raps about all the “shit” he has, and then realizes that the girls, Candy and Brit, at least, are more shocking than he is.

The film layers on the gratuitous nudity and vulgarity, but it has a story that gets visceral, and even though Hollywood has a tradition of girls-gone-bad shockers and we’ve seen this kind of thing before, I must say that the film’s mounting dread is quite effective. The ending, however, is too artsy indie for my taste, and it deflates the film's seriousness. Still, Franco plays a believable sleaze-bag, and the girls are suitably outrageous. SPOILER AHEAD. When Faith descends farther into hell than she would like to go, in a scene that is grippingly evoked, Gomez strikes an extremely touching chord when she has nearly succumbed to temptation and has the strength to turn away. Jane would be happy to know that Selena gets away!

For Jane, I wish this movie had been another Monte Carlo even though there’s a side of me that enjoys a kinky, sordid drama like Domino (2005) with Keira Knightley or thirteen (2003) with Evan Rachel Wood. In a way, it’s too bad that an actress like Vanessa Hudgens has to grow up and demonstrate that she can say "fuck" and show some skin like the big girls, though Jane would be happy to know that Gomez sacrifices much less of her innocent persona on screen. This is in keeping with her character, but perhaps this was Gomez’s personal choice as well.

Yeah, it’s too bad we have to grow up. I don’t know how much Jane knows about the sins of the real world, but she knows enough about profanity that she doesn’t want to hear it in movies, and she knew from seeing the preview for Spring Breakers that this was one Selena Gomez/Vanessa Hudgens movie she had no intention of seeing. Jane would be happy to know that my 8th grade girls share her feelings. Toward the end of class on Thursday, as we spent some minutes talking about upcoming movies, I overheard one girl lamenting the nature of the R-rated Spring Breakers. With the same deep disappointment my daughter had had after seeing the preview, she said, "Why couldn't they just make a good movie of it?" For Jane and these girls, I wish they had.


Steve's Blog said...

Very well-written review. I love the two different perspectives you offer here, Jane and yourself. It shines a new light on the film.

As for myself, Friday night was our 17th anniversary and we spent it at the movies with our daughter (14) watching Spring Breakers. While I admired it greatly, especially the commentary on the consumer, party culture that pervades the choices of today's youth, my daughter said afterwards, "I get it, daddy. I know why you're laughing. I just don't know why kids would want to see this."

It made me wonder about the target audience. I imagine teens would relish the party scenes and violence meant for satire. Or they would find the whole thing tedious and artsy. Nonetheless, the film compelled me and won me over. The techniques of repeated dialogue, letters used as soundtrack, and surreal moments, i.e. Brittany Spears song, reminded me I was watching something original and even angry. James Franco finally impressed me and the scene where he demands to be praised for "his shit" is giddily brilliant.

Hokahey said...

Steve, thanks a lot for the comment and for your observations. Although I would sacrifice the film as it is for an innocent Gomez/Hudgens vehicle for my daughter's enjoyment, I think I've made it clear here that I enjoyed aspects of this film.

Should have mentioned the Spears scene. Being a fan of Britney Spears and knowing her place in teen culture, I have to say the scene by the pool, with Alien on the piano ironically playing her sweet song, is one of my my favorite scenes in the movie - along with the scene in which the very vulnerable, innocent Faith/Gomez asks to go home.

Yes, much of the film is compelling. I loved that the film is about Faith's temptation from the very beginning - and the hold-up is a shocker. Then the stereotypical "Spring Break" scenes of debauchery got tedious. But when Alien appears and the girls give in to temptation and get into the car, I was gripped as the film builds a strong sense of dread. Somehow, that last scene of shooting down the thugs deflated that dread for me.

The scene in which Alien glories in "his shit" is an interesting one and Franco does it well. You call it "giddily brilliant," and that brings to mind a good friend of mine from the Peace Corps who would have agreed with you. He would have thought the whole film was brilliant, and I had planned to include in my post a whole tangent from his antithetical perspective as a contrast to the way Jane and my 8th grade girls lament that this was not a "good" movie.

My friend, Dan, now deceased, was a very intelligent guy and he read everything from Pynchon to porn. Watching this movie I was torn between feeling sad for Jane as I watched the innocent-faced Hudgens kind of overdo the sleazy act - while at the same time I started to enjoy the movie - while at the same time I was thinking of my friend Dan, knowing he would love this movie, wishing he hadn't killed himself so that he could see this movie and so much more! Over the years, every time I read an outrageous novel or see a shocking film, I think of how much Dan would have liked it.

Wow - all that going through my mind during Spring Breakers. Very interesting, the power of a film by itself, and then add to that all that we bring along with us when we watch it - my daughter's perpetual innocence and my friend's wasted life and 8th grade girls and the loss of innocence.

Jason Bellamy said...

I hadn't even heard of this movie, and then I glanced at Twitter a few times and could gather that the movie seems to tempt teens into thinking that it's going to glorify the "fun" of spring break debauchery only to show its horrors -- and that it's artsy fartsy in the process -- or something like that. Your review seems to suggest that as well.

I must say, I'm intrigued enough I might make time to see this one.

Hokahey said...

Jason, thanks for the comment. I think the film is well worth seeing. I gave it another chance to see how I felt about it as a whole, and I must say there are a couple of scenes I'm writing down as potential Best Moments for the year. The casting of Selena Gomez is interesting in the light of the film's examination of radical loss of innocence.

As for the surprised teens, as I was walking out of the theater on Friday, I heard a girl turn to her friend and say, "That wasn't even about anything." Oh, indeed, young lady, the filmmakers are somewhat heavy-handed in making a point, so I think YOU must have missed something when you were texting!