Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring Breakers - Theatrical Review

Release Date: March 15, 2013

"Spring Breakers" has the brains to match its good looks.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 10:00 am March 24, 2013   
Projector Type: Digital 2D  
Film Rating: R  
Film Runtime: 1 hr 32 min
Studio: A24 Films

Loves: Girls with guns
Likes: James Franco, Ashley Benson
Neutral: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez
Hates: Inconsistent stylistic choices    
Don't get your hopes up you pervs: Only Rachel Korine strips down for your pleasure

When college co-ed and childhood friends Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), Faith (Selena Gomez) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) decide they want to go down to Florida for a crazy spring break vacation their plans are crushed when they discover they don't have the money to make the trip. So, the somewhat crazy duo of Candy and Brit decide to rob a local restaurant and use the money to fund their spring break. After arriving in Florida, the foursome use their newly acquired fortune to party all day and dance all night until their fun is brought to a grinding halt when they are arrested on suspicion of illegal drug use. They then find themselves rescued by mysterious gangster hustler named Alien (James Franco) who bails them out in hopes of befriending the girls. It doesn't take long until Alien convinces the girls to join his crew and begins showing them how to hustle like a pro which leads the girls down a dark and narrow path.

Director Harmony Korine's new escapist film "Spring Breakers" is like a hypnotic fever dream featuring drugs, alcohol and violent crime sprees where the participants just so happen to be a close-nit group of girlfriends whose wardrobe only consists of two piece string bikinis, ski masks and fully automatic weapons. While the ads and early press for the film seems to depict it as this girl power gone extreme adventure that is unapologetically exploitative of its four female stars, the film has a surprising amount of depth under it's hood. Featuring strong performances from all four of its female protagonists and a mesmerizing turn by James Franco as their guide into the criminal underworld of Florida, this is one spring break vacation that is easy to get lost in but a little difficult to recommend.

Girls, girls, girls, that has been the ad campaign for "Spring Breakers" since the first day a leaked photo of its four stars hanging out on the beach together in bikinis hit the web. It's a smart angle for sure but it also wards off those who (rightfully) think the movie is just some teenie bopper movie without a brain in its head which couldn't be further from the truth. What is the truth? That is a tricky question to answer since there are still elements of what those ads sold the movie as sprinkled throughout the film, such as how the girls don't seem to own any other clothes beyond bikinis for example. But what might surprise many skeptics and naysayers is that this is a film featuring hot girls in bikinis with an actual brain in its head.

Our girls are the central focal point of the film and in one of many hat tricks by Korine, he doesn't treat them like simple eye candy. These aren't cardboard cutout "Girls Gone Wild" stereotypes, they all have distinct and varied personalities and they all have their individual reasons for wanting to go on Spring Break and what the trip means to them. Brit and Candy are clearly the crazy and wild ones, constantly instigating law breaking activities who are only enrolled in college to satisfy the whims of their families. Cotty wants to be a free spirit like Brit and Candy but still can't bring herself to fully commit like they do. Faith is the church goer, the friend in the group who follows all the rules but puts up with her friend's darker tendencies out of both obligation and a yearning to explore that part of herself.

The fact that these girls aren't just these brainless chicks who commit crimes on the fly is part of the reason why "Spring Breakers" works as well as it does. The foursome is a diverse set of personalities that might not be the most sympathetic girls you have ever met, but they are certainly fun and interesting to hang out with. But on their own they are just four stupid college girls looking to have a good time who like to get into trouble every now and then. It's only when they are busted that their group dynamic begins to get tested and they begin to discover who they truly are. This test is helped along by the introduction of the local drugdealer/gangster/hustler Alien who after he sees their arraignment hearing decides he wants to make some new friends and bails them out, no strings attached. This is also when the film ceases being that teen fantasy flick you thought it was and it becomes something much darker and much more interesting.

James Franco just owns this movie. From the minute he first appears on screen you will be hard pressed to even recognize the actor through that corn rolled hair, 24 karat grill and ridiculously large sunglasses. After being horribly miscast as the wizard in "Oz the Great and Powerful" it was a relief to see Franco in a role that he could just melt into. It isn't exactly the type of performance that will garner awards but it will certainly garner new fans for the actor and will likely be the one thing universally praised about the film, even by its detractors. Just watch the scene where he is bragging about "all his s**t!" to the girls if you need convincing. It's not just Franco though, the connection he has with his four co-stars take it to the next level.

Both ex-Disney Princess' Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens attempt to free themselves of their good girl images and they couldn't have picked a better film nor better roles to do it with. Gomez isn't exactly breaking new ground here (although here scene with Franco is a solid piece of acting) but she sells the bible girl wanting to go bad routine pretty well. Hudgens as Candy though, she goes for broke here leaving almost nothing to the imagination. Ashley Benson makes a great first impression as Brit, Candy's partner in crime, and even Rachel Korine (wife of director Harmony Korine) as Cotty has her chance to shine.

While the performances across the board are without question the highlight of the film, the one area some may find fault with is Korine's purposeful need to show off his indie roots. Shot with mostly a handheld camera and either employing filters over an image or sucking all the light out of a single scene while pumping up the neon glow to absurd levels, "Spring Breakers" has a lot of style to it but it never seems to be able to make up its mind as to what style to stick with. While the dreamlike quality that these visual tricks contribute to work for the most part, this lack of making a decisive decision on the overall look of the film gives it a multiple personality disorder of sorts that could possibly be seen as negative.

These are artistic decisions that for better or worse are intentional and while some of the sequences will stick with you long after the film is over simply because of these stylistic decisions (the final raid by Alien and his girls being a clear standout example), the film could have benefited from a more consistent visual style which would have given more focus on the characters and less on showing off different visual tricks (and did we really need to see women's breasts flashed up on the screen ever other minute to remind us this is taking place during spring break?). If there is one factor that has the possibility to divide audiences and give different knee jerk reactions it will be the look of the film.

Suffice to say that regardless of what all the marketing has led you to believe "Spring Breakers" actually has a lot more to it. Sure it starts out kind like an airhead, but it grows a brain real quick. It is akin to hearing about this incredibly hot girl from all these other people who keep telling you that she is a slut and will bang the s**t out of you but can't carry a conversation worth a dam and then suddenly deciding, against all your instincts, to go over and talk to her to suddenly realize that nothing you had heard about her was correct. That perhaps she dresses a little funny and likes to get freaky every now and then, but she is intelligent and has a great personality to back up those gorgeous looks. In other words, if you have any reservations about seeing the film due to what everyone else has told you, then maybe you should rethink the situation and give love a chance.





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