Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring Breakers [2012]

MPAA (R)  Chicago SunTimes (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars with Explanation)

IMDb listing
Chicago SunTimes (R. Roeper) review
AV Club (S. Tobias) review

Note to all.  Due to the nature of this movie, this review itself is not really intended for younger readers.  It's intended more for parents and older teens/young adults.  Yet, as you will read, the film is certainly worthy of review.  This is because for all the (generally female) nudity, drugs (both pot and coke), and stylized gangsta violence (much of the film runs like a truly uncut "Girls Gone Wild" video drawing the line at out-and-out sex), it's difficult for me to understand Spring Breakers [2012] (screenplay and directed by Harmony Korine) as anything but a surprisingly total - root and branch - condemnation of the whole MTV-style College Spring Break phenomenon.

For this reason, while the film is certainly a hard-R, bordering on / crossing into NC-17 territory, this may not be a bad film for parents with college-age children to see and not to, as the youth oriented AVClub's reviewer feared, to "keep their daughters locked-up" but above all to promote honesty in communication with their college aged / young adult children.  For no one goes to "find themselves" on the beaches of Cancun, or Mazatlan (Mexico), or Daytona, Pensacola or Fort Lauderdale (Florida) or South Padre Island (Texas) during Spring Break.  They go there to Party.  And with that come the risks of drug overdose, drunken accidents (of a truly phenomenal variety - I knew a guy in college who lost a friend trying to jump between balconies 10 stories up in Fort Lauderdale), rape and yes even drug violence (all those drugs being consumed there have to come from somewhere...).  And this then, the underside of the "MTV style" Spring Break phenomenon, is what this film is about.

The film starts off at a random rural State College apparently somewhere in Tennessee.  Two classmates, Candy (played by Vanessa Hudgens) and Brit (played by Ashley Benson) are taking an evening class on the Civil Rights Movement, but Candy and Brit could care less.  Amid the sea of glowing laptop screens of other students ostensibly taking notes, the two instead exchange pornographic messages confessing to each other that they crave a man (or at least a part of his anatomy) and promising each other that they'll surely find one or even a bunch of them during the upcoming Spring Break.  After class, they come back to their dorm apartment, strike up the bong, do a line or two of coke, and then check with roommate Cotty (played by Rachel Korine) as to how much money they have "saved-up" for the trip...

Their other roommate, Faith (played by Selena Gomez) is at a campus prayer meeting.  She doesn't look all that excited to be there at the prayer meeting but she is there.  The bearded student leader of the prayer group is authentic enough.  And he leads the group in a sharing on the theme of "Resisting Temptation," his final message being: "If you're tempted remember that God will always offer you another door to get out" adding with kind, youthful sincerity: "How cool is that?"  And the rest of the group, dutifully and generally with similar sincerity respond: "Amen."  Faith doesn't necessarily roll her eyes, but doesn't necessarily seem convinced either.

After the meeting, Faith's walking with a couple of the other girls who participated back toward the dorm and the girls warn her about her roommates.  Faith defends them saying "Listen, I've known them since forever.  We grew-up together in the same town.  Yes, they may be a bit crazy sometimes, but they're basically good people."  She then tells them that she's probably going to go on Spring break with them.  Bewildered and with the lovely sincerity of youth (folks remember that I am a Catholic priest after all) the two advise her to at least: "Pray hard, yeah, pray 'hard core'" ;-) that she come out okay.

Faith comes home and between her three randy/by now quite stoned roommates and herself, they add up that they have $325 "saved up" for Spring Break (all those drugs back at the dorm, must have cut into their savings...).  One of the girls declares with, again, all the certainly of youth: "That ain't enough to pay for a single night's hotel over there.  They jack up the prices you know..."  Faith herself really wanted to go, "to finally see something of this world besides the same old, same old..."  Telling Faith not to worry, the three others leave her in the dorm room telling her that they "have a plan."

The plan was to steal one of their professor's cars and then knock-off a local Chicken joint.  So Candy and Brit wearing black ski masks and armed with a plastic gun (it's actually a cigarette lighter) and a very large hammer, storm the Chicken joint and proceed with all the gangsta chutzpah that they've learned watching MTV to terrorize the cash register clerk as well as the patrons into giving them their money, while Cody watches "the show" through the restaurant's windows as she drives to the back to pick them up after they're done.  After getting away, they torch the car in a nearby forest (using the cigarette lighter ...) and come home with oodles of cash.  Faith isn't particularly concerned where the money came from when they return.  And the next day they're off on the bus to Florida.

Spring break becomes all the debauchery that they expected it to be.  And all of them, including Faith are mesmerized.  Only Faith is actually calling home at the time, but she's talking nonsense, telling among others her own grandmother how wonderful it all is, how she and all these other people are "finding themselves" and how "next year" she'd like to TAKE HER (her GRANDMA) DOWN THERE TO SPRING BREAK WITH HER ;-).  Again, she's babbling.  And it's clear that she's babbling because the film shows that they had spent the day on the beach doing everything that the other revelers were doing: beer bongs, topless chicken fights, flipping-off / trash-talking random passer-bys and so forth.

The babbling stops and the movie descends to a new level when police inevitably raid a party where the four girls were attending, and soon the four find themselves in just their bikinis cuffed outside the hotel with a whole bunch of similarly clad and similarly cuffed revelers.  And it's actually kinda lucky that they're cuffed in at least their bikinis because before the cops storm in, Faith (the character if probably not the actress) is shown lying on a coffee table topless with others snorting coke off of her stomach).  And to underscore the point while they're outside, cuffed, waiting to be taken away by the police, the only one whose bikini top and bottom don't match is good ole Faith ... (Yes, folks the film's a hard R ...)  What the heck happened?

The four are brought in before the judge who gives them each of them a $150+ fine or two more days in the County jail for public intoxication and drug use.  Since the four tell the judge that they don't have the money, he sends them back to serve the two days in the clink.

The film then descends to the next level when the four are surprised to find themselves bailed-out a few hours later by a local drug-dealing, platinum teeth wearing rapper nicknamed "Alien" (played stunningly if utterly terrifying by James Franco), who after bailing them out takes them in his custom detailed Camaro convertible to party with some of "his homeys."  This is where Faith's had enough and asks to leave.  After a very tense and creepy conversation with "Alien" who kinda liked her (no doubt because all things considered, she was still more of a challenge than the other three) he decides to let her go and even "graciously" helps her get on the bus and go home.  (That door that the prayer leader had talked about near the beginning of the film did appear to open for her ... and she definitely took it).  For his part, "Alien" probably figured that spending too much time trying to corrupt "Faith" wasn't worth the effort.  He had three other young, scantily-clad beauties in tow, who were far more enthusiastic about indulging in his "lifestyle."

Indeed, the three that remained are just mesmerized by Alien's "sh#t" -- A cool beach house, drugs of all kinds (along with one other guy, who's turning out to be a rival..., "Alien" has been basically supplying the Spring Breakers in that part of Florida with their drugs), all kinds of really cool gangsta weapons (glocks, uzis, numchucks), a big bed (of course) covered with his drug money, even a big white grand piano by his pool (he was "a musician" after all...).

Soon donning now pink ski masks (and looking kinda like "aliens" as a result of the masks' "big wide eyes"), while still in those bikinis, but now brandishing "Alien's" uzis, the three join "Alien" by his grand piano to sing a corny rendition of a Britney Spears number before setting off on a crime spree with him, going out and shaking down/terrorizing the same "Spring Breakers" that "Alien" had previously sold his drugs to for their remaining cash. (That little experience knocking off the Chicken joint "back home" came in handy, though this time they were definitely "going pro").

This of course gets the "other guy" who's been selling drugs on the strip rather upset.  So there are some loose ends still still to resolve ...

And oh yes, Candy and Brit do eventually "call home," telling their folks that they're not coming back north to school, that perhaps they'd find some other school down in Florida to attend. But in the meantime, "not to worry" because they've "found some really incredible people," and have "found themselves" ... Yup... there it is. 

Now who could possibly read this film as anything but an absolutely scathing condemnation of the in-your-face crass "gangsta bling" materialism / hedonism that the "MTV-style Spring Break," indeed MTV itself, has stood for?

Certainly a fair question could be asked: Did the film need to be so graphic?  Sigh ... chances are the audience (young adults) would probably not watch a Dateline or 20/20 segment on "Spring Break."  As graphic as it it, its unmistakable point (this is NOT the way to live) will probably stick in the minds of those who watch it. 

Neither did the film condemn in anyway "Spring Break" in general.  It did not condemn a "Disney Spring Break" (I was stationed in Kissimmee, Florida for 3 1/2 years.  ALL KINDS OF NICE KIDS OF THE SAME AGE GROUP AS THIS FILM WOULD GO DOWN TO DISNEY FOR SPRING BREAK) or a "Mission Experience Spring Break" (For older teens / young adults of my Order's apostolates in North America, my Order's Mexican Province offers an annual Holy Week Experience among the Tlapaneco people that they serve at their Mission in the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico) or even a "Visit France / China / Machu Pichu Spring Break" (I've known teens and young adults who've had wonderful experiences visiting all those places as part of Chicago Public School / College sponsored trips over Spring/Easter Break.  And indeed, Selena Gomez along with "Gossip Girl" Leighton Meester even starred in a very nice "Visit France" film called Monte Carlo [2011] a few years back).  What Spring Breakers [2012] does condemn is a "Drink till you don't remember (and all that follows...) Spring Break."

So yes, this is a graphic movie. But it is certainly not a mindlessly graphic film. Pretty much every scene in this movie has a purpose and the result is, IMHO, an absolutely clear condemnation of the lifestyle it so excruciatingly portrays.


While still agreeing with the basic point of the film (and of my review of it), I did find myself subsequently asking myself some rather uncomfortable questions about the film's elitism (and consequently the elitism of my review):

How sexist, racist and classist is the film?

Sexist: The film clearly chooses to focus on, indeed "go to town," lampoon, make fun of the bad choices of four young college women who go on Spring Break. What about the bad choices of the college men who were there with the four women as well?

Racist: Faith becomes uncomfortable with her Spring Break experience only when she finds herself bailed out by the hip-hopping local "Alien" (still white) AND HIS BLACK FRIENDS.

Classist: In my review of this film, I listed a series of much more positive alternatives to the "MTV style Spring Break" - "A Disney Spring Break," a "Mission / Volunteer Experience Spring Break," a "Visit to France / China / Machu Pichu, (or perhaps even Quebec/Toronto/Vancouver) Spring Break."  BUT all these alternatives COST MONEY.  Spring Break at Daytona or Pensacola would probably be cheaper than many/most of these alternatives (and of course Canada would be far colder than most of the U.S. during the Spring Break time of year...).

Continuing with the "classist" angle: "Alien" and his posse in the film were simply the "local townies" whose communities get invaded each year for a couple of weeks by randy college students (arguably better educated and with more options than the locals).  Who were the real "Aliens" in this story?

Anyway, this all makes for interesting fodder for reflection as well.  After conceding (even wholeheartedly agreeing with) the basic point of the film, was the film too hard on its principal characters? 

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  1. Sexist and Racist? Nope, not at all. Alien comes across as a wannabee, all talk and little action. Yes, he has money, but he can't deal with the rivalry of his former best friend Gucci Mane. Alien gets shot and goes down without a whimper like the loser he actually is. The pistol toting nubile bikini clad coeds settle the score and take out Gucci and his entourage. They fall like dominoes. The message is clear - these guys are not tough its all a big show.

  2. This was a very interesting review to read. I am glad that you looked at it with an open mind and saw that it had a bit more to offer then just being an exploitation film even though it does have all those elements. Thank you