Friday, November 1, 2013

The First Rule of Spring Break Is You Do Not Talk About Spring Break

"Wild Things on acid.” That's how I would elevator-pitch the audio-visual mind-f**k that is Spring Breakers.

No excuse I can offer for why I chose to watch Spring Breakers, the indie-ish movie about hedonism and lost (or aimless) youth now out on DVD, will prevent most from having their own sneaky suspicions regarding my motives, so let's get those on the table.

Yes, it stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgins, two former Teen TV Divas I watched grow up out of the corner of my eye thanks to my daughters' viewing habits. Yes, they're now very much Of Age yet soooo different. Gomez looks simultaneously 22 and 12, the kind of young woman whose unwavering girlishness is why Nickelodeon loved/loves her. Hudgins emits a frightening and voracious -- possibly vacuous -- kind of sexuality.

Hudgins best scene in the movie involves her lying on the bed of gangster/rapper/idiot "Alien" (James Franco channeling Gary Oldman from True Romance). Clad only in bra and panties, she and her naughty college gal pal are playing with Alien's extensive collection of illegal firearms. She holds the weapons much as she wields her body: carelessly, wrecklessly, and defiantly daring you to challenge her on whether she knows how to use them.

The movie is a hot mess, and intentionally so. Lines and scenes are regularly played over and over. For example, one post-coital scene is played as if the director loved all four takes of Alien and his two bisexual "soul mates" talking while naked at his pool so much she couldn't cut any of them. Another has Alien running through what has to have been a totally impromptu rap experiment from Franco.

Very little about the film is intended to be all that believable, plot-wise. Scene changes are these non-sequitur interruptive shots of various extreme Spring Break bacchanals, with more exposed breasts and aggressive (yet encouraged by the girls) misogyny I've seen since Girls Gone Wild tanked.

The girl protagonists are a hot mess. Relatively poor and predictably bored college kids desperate to enjoy what other kids get - a wild escape - they do what any of us would do, right? They rob a diner and it's late-night patrons with some water guns and mallets. And squeal with girlish glee.

James Franco might be the hottest mess in the flick. If you’ve never seen True Romance and therefore don’t get the Gary Oldman reference, then by God stop reading this and go watch that amazing and unsettling film. Franco channels Oldman’s Drexel as a younger and dumber Floridian. Spring Breakers might well have more to say about lost and listless souls, but it’s not half the pure thrill rush that is True Romance.

Gomez is the closest thing the entire movie has to a conscience, and when you see how her role plays out, you’ll realize just how little conscience we’re talking, as her “conscience” borders on hazy cluelessness, with a decent heart and a half-hearted connection to Christianity.

The message of Spring Breakers is closer to a feminized version of Fight Club. It demands the viewers look at what so many college-age kids identify as the end-all be-all of their existence -- a desperate need to get away and unleash every molecule of id in their system -- and wonder why this should be perceived as “normal” or "OK."

For all the misogyny inherent in most of what we define as “fun” in the Spring Break scenes in the movie, the biggest relief in the film is that it never once tries to tackle roofies, or date rape, or drunken gang rape. Any sexual assault in the film, if there is any (I'll let the feminists argue this one), happens with as much consent as girls could possibly offer.

In one particularly tense scene, one of the four girls is left alone at a party with a group of nigh-naked beefcakey guys. They practically drown her in liquor and beer, but even at her most incoherent, the men still never take that next step. This stretch in the movie is powerfully tense because it’s the first time I can recall a movie where lots of guys with a single young and vulnerable drunk and flirtatious girl doesn’t end with a violation.

This movie isn't about women as victims, or as passive participants in a man's world. This is not so much a movie about bad men as it is about the badness in women, and the badness women tolerate.

It's a hot mess, but it's an unusually deep hot mess.

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