Smile Politely

Shit gets real

This is not Annette Funicello’s Spring Break! In the sixties, plenty of celluloid was spent on Disney-grad Funnicello’s virginal outing to the beach. She and her ilk would play with love and tiptoe around sex in amply padded bikinis with granny-panty bottoms. Some found these films wholesome, and some found them too titillating for the former Disney princess to be involved in, but the box office dollars rolled in. When actual sex was discussed, Funnicello was hidden in her trailer, and Sandra Dee, Connie Stevens, and Tina Louise dealt with the biggest fear of the era: an unwanted pregnancy that could only be dealt with through shame or a loveless marriage. All these blond tarts found themselves knocked up and abandoned and the music swelled with their shameful bellies. Thank God we kept Annette pure so she could wear her Mouseketeer ears in Heaven! That was Then.

The Art’s midnight show (which ran last weekend and returns this Thursday), Spring Breakers, is Now: It’s a raunchy, violent, and provocative dream/nightmare vision of a film with a quartet of tween princesses trying to be “serious” actors. Disney princesses, Selena Gomez, Vanessa “That-Bitch-Who-Stole-My-Man” Hudgens, and ABC Family’s Ashley Benson, join full-on grown-up (and director’s wife) Rachel Korine to play a group of drugged-out-college-girl messes who are bored with their overly automated computer classrooms and their zombie-like instructors. The girls find themselves a few hundred dollars shy of the cash needed for a killer Spring Break.

Hmmm. What to do?

Well, the dark resolution of that dilemma is the jet fuel of this fascinating little cinematic ride. From the film’s opening credits, these girls are interspersed with quasi-real footage of Spring Breakers in bikinis shaking their booties and allowing close-up photography of their skimpily clothed taints to inhabit the big screen. This film makes Girls Gone Wild look like a cautionary afterschool special, something with a title like … Rachel, Portrait of a Teenage Tit Flasher. This film is all about the drunken worship of these girls’ bodies. There’s a lot of bikini crotch wiggling in the opening moments of this film, and were I to have happened upon it while channel surfing on cable, I would have run screaming to the nearest Jeff Stryker video. Writer/Director Korine seems obsessed with this tribal ritual and plays it ad-nauseum for the first fifteen minutes of the film. His obsession with the boys is less degraded, but just as inane and sexually autistic. All of these college kids want to get drunk, get high, and get laid without a condom in sight, an idyllic Spring Break from Hell they will have to remember forever. Hedonism is their only goal, and the ritual of their mating is seen in graphic and unflinching detail. Our heroines have uniformly bad dye-jobs that only a crack-whore could love (save Gomez who mopes and pouts with the same old hairstyle she sports on Wizards of Waverly Place), and their appetite for drugged out encounters is unsettling. So much so that, a few minutes into this film, I wondered, “Holy Hell, why am I here?”

Those thoughts soon abated as the film transformed into a weird nightmare-scape of a movie meditation on collegiate hedonism at its most disturbing. The girls lose all morality as their Spring Break looms, a point nicely conveyed by Gomez’s attendance of a campus youth ministry prayer meeting, where the way-too-cool minister/leader tells his charges to “avoid temptation,” while the others prep for debauchery and mayhem. Soon Gomez is smoking a bowl and snorting lines with her sisters as they venture to a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. Through circumstances, the girls become enmeshed with a sleazoid criminal named Alien (portrayed by the skillful James Franco) and his badass, though stereotypical, business rival (played by rapper Gucci Mane). This is where the film really takes flight.

Franco’s scenes with the girls take on a hypnotic drone as he murmurs his praises of the girls in an echoed refrain of inane lines that transform his voice into a combination of the boy you lost your cherry to and the molester you still hear in your nightmares during REM sleep. His performance is bold and bizarre and keeps with his latest tendency to play outlaw artiste in a series of unique, experimental projects. Alien is a role he fully commits to and whether you love or hate him, you can’t deny the power of his performance. I personally find him fascinating and love all of his bizarre endeavors. This will not garner awards like his turn in 127 Hours, but it is a performance that takes this film from a crotch-fest to the realm of Faustian nightmare, with our Disney nymphets tossing away their virtue to a sleazy guy with a messed-up grill and a few semi-automatic weapons.

As for the girls, Hudgens and Benson fare best, committing fully to their ever-darkening roles. The scene where they force Franco to fellate twin revolvers with silencers on them is both horribly disturbing and bizarrely titillating. They embrace their power over him and make a lasting impression. Gomez got on my last nerve as the good Christian girl who dips her toe into the Hell-pool and then scurries away to Jesus-land. Her scenes are overly long and her performance is all pout and droopiness, a Cover-Girl television ad gone horribly wrong. Rachel Korine has the worst hair of the quartet and the second weakest role, though having the girls dwindle as the stakes get higher is a logical move in the film.

Though there are some shortcomings, Spring Breakers (trailer here) is a hypnotic and resonant experience that will stay with you long after the credits end. Where the film takes you is unique. How they use Franco’s seduction mantras and the mantras of the girls calling their mothers or grandmothers to tell them they are “okay” casts a powerful spell. The repeated voice-over of these words over images of Franco and company romanticizing and eroticizing each other is pretty unforgettable. Visually, this film is a stunner. Its images haunt and get past our jaded resistance of such fare. It makes you think about where our youth are headed. Were I ever to consider being a parent, this film would be the antidote to that desire. Adolescent freedom is a terrifying place in Harmony Korine’s skillful hands, and this is a helluva midnight film to take in at the Art. Buckle up and enjoy the ride! 

Related Articles