Sex, Sea and Spring Breakers

Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb

Edward Elmore writes for The Guardian about the recent US release of Spring Breakers, which is out on April 5th in the UK:

But what of Spring Breakers? It is by most standards Korine’s most mainstream work to date. The film, he says, was never meant to be an essay or an exposé. “It’s an impressionistic reinterpretation of events. A pop poem. It’s more interesting to me when they start flirting with the gangster culture – the beach noir – the drugs, the violence, with its rotting yachts in the backyard and the palm trees … “It’s that culture of surfaces and the pathology that’s the residue of it. The menace that’s out there is really what I wanted to get into.

Read the full article here.

Like many people, I am keen to watch Spring Breakers. As Elmore writes in his article, it stars three former Disney Channel stars (Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson) with a thoroughly repulsive, but apparently unforgettable role from James Franco. A far cry from his nice-guy character in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and 127 Hours. The fascination with the ‘Spring Break’ culture is unique to America – and something we have seen before in films like Piranha 3D – but apparently, as Korine says in the article, Spring Breakers is darker than it lets on..

Elmore’s article is titled “Drink, Drugs and the Hyper-sexual” – three words that grab your attention from the outset. The critics all cheer on the film: Richard Roeper says it’s “the most unforgettable movie of the year”, multiple sources use the same term “fever-dream” to describe the “candy-coloured” buzz captured by Korine. One reviewers writes how it is a “scathing indictment of a generation led to believe that being a bad-ass and having a screw-it attitude is admirable” (Mike McGranaghan of Aisle Seat).

As a comparison, later this year, Neil Jordan releases his Vampire offering Byzantium – a film whereby, according to the trailer, Gemma Arteton is a stripper and Soairse Ronan is her daughter; both are vampires. The trailer, like Spring Breakers, is littered with scenes that clearly show an explicitly-sexual flavour to the film. With Neil Jordan behind the camera, the assumption is the film will have an edge of class and credibility, and the sexual sales tactic is merely that – a sales tactic. Spring Breakers, it seems, appears to attack the audience it hopes to attract with a critical eye – and therefore believes it holds an air of class and credibility in the same manner.

But let us suppose that you are a producer – the very idea of criticising the audience you want to attract is a risky move. Unless the film is littered with the bikini-clad lead actresses that will ensure that a shallow-minded audience will still get what they came for: eroticised young-women. And so, any criticism on this culture and attitude is undermined by the depiction and celebration of the culture itself.

I am aware that, as I have yet to view the film, I must be careful in my criticism – but I cannot help but feel that, despite the positive reviews, the film is ultimately going for an audience who get a kick from this ‘Spring Break’ culture. You would like to think that Spring Breakers criticises violence and sex in a manner akin to Funny Games and Shame – tastefully and respectfully – and directly questions you, as a viewer, about the morality of watching the film itself. But I have a funny feeling it has a detached stance, whereby we watch the film from an outsider’s perspective – acting more like voyeurs as we see the sexually-active teenagers engage in fantasy activities… until the final act whereby they may/may not get their comeuppance (but by this point, we have enjoyed over an hour of ‘drink, drugs and hyper-sexual’ activity).

So rather than compare the film to Michael Haneke and Steve McQueen, it sounds to me like it is more akin to the teenage, pseudo-pornography of Wild Things and Cruel Intentions in the late 90s. But we are led to believe that this is “much more” than eye-candy – its a mainstream film with a profound commentary on 2012’s teenagers. Is that more worrying? That we are expected to take it so seriously? I will watch the film, but just because something argues in the final act that the immorality of such actions has consequences, this doesn’t ignore the opening and main act of the film whereby sex and drugs are a legitimate form of escapism – like cinema itself can be.

(And on a side-note, if you have got this far down the article, maybe the reason you are here in the first place is because of the MTV beach bodies that are advertised at the top of the page, and the knowledge of the content in Spring Breakers…)

Simon Columb

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