— Robert Duvall as Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore from Apocalypse Now, 1979
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March 26, 2013
Spring Breakers: A Brilliant, Dark Art Film Goes Mainstream and Divides Audiences
— Posted by Kenny Miles
A recent movie trend is inevitable: diverse film tastes lead to division among viewers. Its bound to happen. And when something is falsely marketed, it can confuse a viewer leading to mediocre to a negative reaction. This has happened recently with Killing Them Softly, Drive, Cabin in the Woods, The American and I’d even argue Magic Mike. When expectations aren’t met and even challenged, the loud, obnoxious Twitter mob will rampage seeking to destroy a movie. People get upset and there misunderstandings lead to a full throttle attack (like when the elitist coastal, Salon reading ‘chattering class’ thought Zero Dark Thirty supported torture). The latest example of a movie dividing an audience and the haters taking their frustrations to Twitter to dominate the conversation is the polarizing Spring Breakers. Searching “Spring Breakers worst” was a riot as tweets showcased people weren’t happy with what they watched.
Over the weekend, Spring Breakers surpassed expectations by expanding a limited release from 3 theaters to over 1,000 and grossing $5 million. The buzz was strong and its publicity paid off from its $2 million budget. Before the limited release, A24 hosted a Spring Break party in Denver with drink specials with free jello shots and free pizza while giving away schwag. It was a smart, successful promotional event. Don’t be fooled by the glossy posters and sexy advertising for Spring Breakers, which is like selling a gluten free cake by the frosting alone and not owning up to the real organic ingredients. To my shock and relief, Spring Breakers is a scathing indictment of the current youth’s blind indulgent of our sex-obsessed, trigger-happy, money-hungry American culture and the desire for bored, young upper middle income white people to masquerade as a famous “gangsta.” This is hedonism gone wild from a lost generation. We need to watch something like Spring Breakers and understand the implications this behavior imposes on a society.
Spring Breakers goes where most people would (and wouldn’t) expect. The opening scene shows coeds partying on the sun bleached, beer soaked, bare breasts galore Florida beach. Cut to two of the protagonists in a college classroom as a professor lectures them about social injustice and globalism. Our main characters our too distracted making jokes about enjoying penis and blowjobs. Immediately, the zeitgeist of the higher institution of learning is just for goofy off and hooking up is on full display. We quickly witness desperate and spoiled college girls rob a restaurant with fake guns demanding cash from the patrons and the register to score money for a trip to Florida. “Pretend its a movie” one of the girls tells another who’s hesitant to do it. Gleefully along for the ride and winking at the camera, Britney Spears songs serve as an anthem for “Disney Girls Gone Wild!” James Franco is jaw dropping and unrecognizable as rapper Alien delivering quite the show stopping, supporting performance. With everything Spring Breakers throws at the audience, its a testament to Mr. Franco’s talent on how he steals the movie, a performance worthy of at least an Indie Spirit Award Nomination. Harmony Korine is known for being an odd ball, shocking director. Only the screenwriter of the mature KIDS and the director behind Trash Humpers, where people guess what, hump trash, could pull off a movie quite like Spring Breakers.
Even though I highly recommend Spring Breakers for what it accomplishes and says about the “state of the nation,” there will be viewers who will HATE Spring Breakers. This is to be expected. Its a challenging, slow paced, unexpected film that slips in and out of what is described as a fever dream. It goes to places where one doesn’t expect (like this more poster featured over here) However, critics who dissect film and understand a cultural meaning giving Spring Breakers a negative review is dumbfounding! Complaining about the excessive amounts of drugs and sex is a cop out. I do not like those things in my movies, but don’t write off entire movies for an excess of it. The best reviewer who understood Spring Breakers was Manohla Dargis of the The New York Times saying the movie “comes across as a savage social commentary that skitters from one idea to another — white faces, black masks, celebrity, the American dream, the limits of self-interest, the search for an authentic self… it comes off as the apotheosis of the excesses it so spectacularly displays. ” The worst review was Justin Larsen (Larsen on Film) who compared Spring Breakers to “a fantasy version of Steubenville.” Obviously, the same movie offers two different stark opinions. Most could agree that Spring Breakers wants to criticize the excess, but indulge in the madness as well. For me, it succeeds in a brilliant way at playing both sides.
I wasn’t prepared for the exceptionally brilliant but deeply polarizing Spring Breakers…and neither are the mainstream fans of these young actors. I sense a lot of the movie watching rage is coming from them (and some critics who just don’t get it.) Many viewers expecting a sensational exploitation will be disappointed. Like me, I was in this camp thinking this was a throw away sad excuse for teenage actresses acting all grown up. When I heard Harmony Korine was the director, my expectations were corrected, my curiosity dramatically peeked, and I left my screening stunned. The actresses involved (Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, and Selena Gomez) made a bold and calculated move agreeing to be in a Spring Breakers which is more along the lines of a cautionary tale for their fan base. Teenage actors have struggled adjusting their movie careers. From Zach Efron in the trashy and awful Paperboy (where Nicole Kidman urinates on him) to Kristen Stewart in the mediocre and forgettable On the Road (featuring a sex scene with nudity), many young and famous actors have made a lame and awkward transition out of the teeny pop genre into the risky, adult art house world. Not these ladies. This might be a legendary and infamous decision to be featured in a film destined to be a cult classic. How can I say something so absurd? Spring Breakers is something to see to believe. If people are hating it, you know a movie like Spring Breakers is successful at garnering a reaction. This negative reaction only justifies the rave reviews including my own.
After you see it, tell us what you thought in the comment section.
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Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion for interacting with moviegoers (something most movie pundits lack) as a pollster for the market research company CinemaScore and working as floor staff/special events coordinator in the film community. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.
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