Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Spring Breakers - A Party Worth Skipping

Driven by desperation at not having the financial means to get themselves to spring break, three girls (Vanessa Hudgeons, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) rob a cafe. Their idoneously named religious friend, Faith (Selena Gomez), rounds out the quartet post-larceny, and the girls board a bus for some beach-based bacchanalia. A hotel bust (completely unrelated to the inciting burglary) lands them in jail and, subsequently, in the company of amateur rapper and all-around bad news dude, Alien (James Franco). 

From the get-go, Spring Breakers seems unsure whether it wants to glorify spring break rowdiness, or condemn it. The only foil for the trio of ne'er-do-wells is Faith with her overt religiousness. As her compatriots are drawing pictures of dongs and robbing people at gunpoint (in that order, with about that much time between them), she is singing hymns with other Christian coeds. The contrast couldn't be more on-the-nose, and in fact, is representative of a larger weakness of the film. Subtext, one of the defining traits of engaging cinema, seems as much a priority to writer/director, Harmony Korine (Rachel's real life husband), as modesty does to the spring breakers.

The two-dimensional characters are frustratingly ambivalent about their malevolent deeds. Perhaps if we had a better sense of who the trio of robbers are as individuals - as opposed to sex and booze hungry coeds with little more depth than that - we could better buy their rash decision to hold up a restaurant for bus fare. As it stands, we don't get to know them and, as such, don't have enough of a foundation to be able to decide whether we're supposed to feel for them and the mess they get themselves into, or if we're supposed to look down on them with disdain. 

If Korine's reluctance to offer some sense of viewer relationship to his quartet of coeds was its only shortcoming, Spring Breakers might be a fun ride. However, a nagging voiceover, inconsistent tone, and repetitive editing all conspire to weigh the film down further. Frequent repetition of dialogue, shots, and scenes from different angles makes one wonder by the 20 minute mark how much actual story there is to the movie. Ninety minutes later, the answer is, very little. When not much is happening anyway, the decision to show scenes time and again works against the finished product. 

More grating, though, are Faith's frequent voiceovers. Perhaps Korine's attempt at infusing the film with depth and his characters with dimensionality, he has Faith question aloud their actions, overlays phone calls between her and her grandmother with the immoral behavior of the other three girls, and try to reconcile her religious beliefs with the crimes she and her friends are rapidly becoming involved in. The existential voice overs are at odds with the near incessant shots of bare-chested coeds, beer bongs, and coke lines. They belong in a deeper film, one that knows whether it wants to condemn or tout such behavior.  In a film where not until 50 minutes in do the girls even have more in their wardrobe than bikinis, it is hard to take any of the characters or their dilemmas seriously. Korine seems to believe (as one would hope he would) that such actions are shameful, but his unwillingness to take a firm stance fails to mesh with Faith's verbal musings. The greater failure, though, is the inability to make the viewer care about any of it. 

Sure, I like a scantily clad woman just as the next guy, but the film blurs the line between trash, porn, and an actual story for 90 minutes straight, and nearly the entire first hour is proof of where the director's priorities lie. If you want to see topless college girls and don't care much for plot or depth, then Spring Breakers will be right up your alley. Of course, you could also just go down to Florida in March and experience it for yourself; it would certainly be more fun.