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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: Spring Breakers

I’ve been sitting on this one a bit… because it’s a hard movie to read consistently. Reducing it to Maxim: The Motion Picture is as reductive and unreasonable as suggesting that middle-aged men (the vast majority of paid film critics) are immune to the power of 94 minutes of firmly jiggling ass that can be called art because the director can legitimately (if not unanimously) be tagged as an uncompromising artist.

The center of the film is as wild-eyed a performance as James Franco has ever delivered. Excellent. But the women around him—Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine—are barely doing more than “being” on camera. That’s not always easy. And Hudgens, in particular, seems to want to push her personal envelope. But it mostly feels like Korine set up a safe zone on set and got these young women to behave as a lot of teens act on real spring breaks.

To say that the four young ladies are interchangeable is too much. But it speaks to the story, their characters and the uniqueness of their performances (or lack thereof) that as 2 of the 4 exit at one point in the film, their character motivations are clear (established from the first seconds of the movie), but the significance of their characters to the movie seems completely irrelevant.

But that is Spring Breakers. It’s a lot like Maxim, with plenty of unclothed young flesh, but very little real sexual threat. It’s got plenty of violence, but not a sense of any real pain being attached to all of the shooting (the hard R version of Small Soldiers). It calls Selena Gomez’s character “Faith” and lingers on the issue of faith… but never comes close to exploring real faith. Everything is plastic. Everything is false. Nothing means much.

Yet… it is entertaining. Audiences laugh. Franco is outrageous. Situations are outrageous. And it feels like it means something… girls in bikinis and day-glo balaclavas must means something, right? It means something when it’s Pussy Riot. But these girls are not about anything… except going on spring break.

If I had to say what I think the movie is about, it’s spring break kitsch, these girls following the yellow-stained road through Oz, with Franco as The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, AND The Lion. What does a teenaged girl think spring break is? What a gangsta is? What drug wars are? What death is? It’s a journey into a fantasy of what real life is, seen through the prism of girls who think single parenthood, hoarding, debutantes with sex tapes, etc, is glamorous entertainment.

We all bring our personal perspectives to the movie theater. I am reminded of watching Sudden Impact with a friend who said she didn’t like Clint Eastwood, who then proceeded to giggle her ass off during the movie (which includes the legendary line, “Go ahead, make my day”) and claiming afterwards that she “hated it.”

For me, the movie was as much about Dirty Harry and Eastwood as it was about its content. I was a fan of all 3 previous films and had considered the politics in depth, etc. Where did Sudden Impact fit in? What did it mean in the Reagan era?

But my resistant friend? She was undeniably entertained. But she didn’t want to be entertained that way. She didn’t care about the film history context or the political. So is Sudden Impact a great movie exclusively in its own right? Probably not. It’s entertaining. But in many way, it is a parody of itself and was pretty much the end of the line of that era of cop movie, supplanted a few years later by the buddy cop/self-loathing cop genre embodied by Lethal Weapon.

For those critics who are talking about Spring Breakers as though it was an important film, I suggest they go back to Project X (27% on RT) and reconsider, because as much as I didn’t like Project X, there are really only 2 major things separating the films conceptually. 1. James Franco (which is not nothing). And 2. Project X is about boys being venal, pig idiots who are self-romanticized and Spring Breakers is about boys who are venal, pig idiots who are romanticized by girls. In other words, SB allows us XYs room to forgive ourselves and PX does not.

Of course, that analysis, like Spring Breakers itself, is both true and oversimplified.

If you are a movie person, you should see this film… and not just so you can be a part of the conversation… but because the issues around it are at the core of complex thinking on film… not matter what side of the issues you find yourself embracing or rejecting.

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14 Responses to “Review: Spring Breakers”

  1. Think says:

    This is an extremely atmospheric and beautifully executed art film crossed with a healthy dose of (irony drenched) exploitation.


  2. etguild2 says:

    I loved PROJECT X. I thought it was atmospheric in its own way–slovenly, dirty, the inevitable endpoint of modern youth’s embrace of nihilistic extremism. I thought the movie was daringly amoral, and you could feel Phillips’s hand pushing the horrible decisions further and further. As someone who lived the suburban fraternity party lifestyle for a couple years, I thought it a fever dream of “”epicness”” and horrifyingly real potential….and it turns out that the movie DID have real potential, as it spawned a low-stakes arms race of real–life outrageous parties around the globe that tried to emulate it, and in some cases succeeded.

    If BREAKERS is similar, I think it’s a compliment.

  3. jesse says:

    etguild2, most Todd Phillips productions (though I realize he didn’t direct Project X) knock on the door of that amorality and critique and nihilism, and then run away because in the end, they want the audience to have a good time and feel good about the characters and feel kind of delighted by their awfulness.

    I don’t buy him as a secret satirist.

    Nor do I really buy Korine as a master of atmospheric poetry, satire, or whatever the fuck else people have projected onto this OK movie with about 30-40 minutes’ worth of brilliant sequences set adrift in “hypnotic” repetition and art-installation smog.

    I don’t often agree with Dave’s reviews, but I feel like he got it almost exactly right here, especially with regards to how great Franco is but, at the same time, how that seems to come at the expense of the four girls, who are just shy of interchangeable (and I’d argue that the two remaining in the movie at the end pretty much are — and I like Hudgens as an actress, actually! Or at least I thought she was endearing in Bandslam).

    It’s often gorgeous, but it seems to me it hides, to some extent, behind the art-film trappings. It feels to me like they only had a certain amount of truly compelling footage so they decided to fix it with EDITING! Lots and lots of editing!

  4. etguild2 says:

    Yeah I agree Phillips usually cops out near the end (though I found both characters in DUE DATE to be extremely unpleasant), but PROJECT X certainly didn’t have the audience rooting for the kids by the end….

    Hudgens has always seemed to want to embrace her sexuality, even back in the HS Musical days. I don’t know that she can act though. Gomez seems like a true cipher. I wish I could have been present for the note trading on Zac Efron, Justin Bieber and Harmony Korine, however.

  5. Keil S. says:

    I prefer to imagine that Poland is comparing Spring Breakers to Matthew Broderick’s Project X while reading this review.

  6. DiscoNap says:

    Not to blaspheme, but for me SPRING BREAKERS is what BADLANDS made now would be like. I don’t even think Korine meant for it to be as good as it is. It says everything about our empty culture, and Franco is Ledger level good in it.

  7. jesse says:

    Project X ends with a tag where the jerkier kid is on the news acting like a pimp or whatever and you can’t tell me it’s not played in a way that the audience is supposed to be like AW YEAH HILARIOUS. I don’t think the ending of that movie, even though it does show consequences for their actions, is intended to make anyone actually think about anything. Because Phillips and company always go for the cheap laugh.

    DiscoNap, I just watched Badlands the other night. Breakers is no Badlands. Badlands is interesting all the way through and to the degree that the characters are opaque, their motivations kind of murky (in that way, I would agree, Spring Breakers does have some common ground there), it raises questions rather than just saying, who cares, everyone is kind of stupid because this culture is so empty. To me that’s not enough for a whole movie.

  8. Jermsguy says:

    So I’ve gathered from this I don’t need to see Project X or Spring Breakers. The ads from Spring Breakers just makes me think “I hope those young women don’t go the Lindsey Lohan route.” It also reminds me of the line from Ted. “Somewhere out there, there are four terrible fathers I’d like to thank for this moment.”

  9. oscarfan says:

    Someone minimizing a Korine film with a quote from “Ted”.

    Ladies and gentleman: modern film-fan culture.

  10. leahnz says:

    I haven’t boredly-loathed a movie so much in a while, so congrats to Korine’s pretentious, repetitive ADHD wannabe-hard-core pseudo-‘social commentary’ desperate-to-be-‘arthouse cool’ inane boobie-fest for managing to at least make me feel something – give me something to ridicule – with some fleeting bored disdain (now a whole movie of ‘alien’, that could actually be interesting – but he doesn’t have boobies and zero character so fat chance there, bummer man)

  11. oscarfan says:

    “desperate to be ‘arthouse cool'”.

    LOL! Korine’s been ‘arthouse cool’ for almost 20 years.

    Hilarious to see the reactions to this movie by those who aren’t familiar with his previous work.

  12. SamLowry says:

    Korine said in one interview he wanted to capture what spring break was about, with to him was (IIRC) “getting drunk, breaking things, and having sex”.

    Umm, breaking things? No wonder the locals act like they’d like to shoot all these kids.

  13. djk813 says:

    The one thing that kept going through my head during the party scenes was Steubenville. Sure, in the vast majority of instances kids will party and the worst thing that will happen is that they’ll get sick and be hungover, but watching those scenes I couldn’t get the idea that this was just a recipe for rape out of my head.

    Though I assume if you’re reading a review thread you’ve seen the movie or don’t care about spoilers, but just in case SPOILERS below.

    I agree with the idea that the girls other than Faith are interchangeable and perhaps that’s the point that allows people to project their own ideas on the film. A lot of reviews are calling the film an indictment of youth culture, but I wonder whether that is projection on intent. (I haven’t read any interviews with Korine about the film.) One thing that has stuck with me is that the girls get away with it with very little consequence other than a bullet wound that’s going to leave a scar. The two girls who left obviously understood the repercussions of their actions, but the “message” of the other two could very well be that they came down to Spring Break, partied, and kicked ass.

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And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

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