Sunday, December 22, 2013

Review: SPRING BREAKERS: Wagner Does Schoolies

An overture of bright bikinis and surf shorts stuffed with bronzed and fatless teens in the dazzling sun of Florida. A mass strut and grind in slow motion. Everyone is hot and splashing in the crystal water, drinking beer through funnels and gyrating to the sound of a laboratory-conditions techno number, all samples and pitch mangling. Welcome to Spring Break.

A brief and very quiet interlude in a hotel room. The heat and light is kept out by orange curtains as some girls either sleep or take hits on a bong. Recharge.

Then we get to meet them in their habitat: a clean-air USA campus where the architecture is tasteful if squat and ordered. The lecture theatres are filled with students listening and typing in the dark. Two girls exchange note pad dirty drawings and laugh. Cut to a third girl sighing her way through a prayer meetin led by a tattooed ex Angel. A fourth girl in a kitchen plays with a water pistol, squirting on to her tongue. Practice. And that is almost all we get to know of this quartet. That's not a criticism. You'll see why.

Spring Break, a kind of scoolies week for toolies, is up and the girls need to raise the money to get there, book a room and go nuts. After various legit approaches fail to draw enough cash the girls try something else. The resulting track around a diner (as one of the girls moves the getaway car into position and we see the balaclava-ed girls inside raging through the kind of violent anmd vindictive armed robbery that only teenagers could enact) will inform the rest of the film's cinematic substance.

And that's what we see. And that's the point where we should be starting to notice the musicality of the structure of this film. Motif, a pointed repetition of theme or figure is the means and the weave of several themes made from seductive imagery is the method. Slowmo pans and tracks of the young buff and beautiful in the water like aquatic primates on the road to humanity. Seamy nocturnal vingettes feel like sleaze and smell like perspiration and petrol. And on and on. The click of guns being cocked comes up like punctuation. There is so much of this that without Harmony Korine's uncharacteristically delicate guidance it would explode like a beer in the freezer.

That it glides and and plays together in counterpoint is impressive. This is not to say that it never errs. There are moments of saturation which can feel exhausting but at each of these points there is something that lifts the pace and progress back to working level and we go on, enjoying the mesmerism.

Sorry, forgot the plot. Really, it's this: the girls get to spring break and have the kind of time they would expect. During a police raid on one of the holiday apartment blocks (balconies stuffed with surfeits of candy coloured bikinis) the girls are arrested. They are bailed by the dangerous looking Alien (metal teeth, tatts and deardlocks) who takes them from the hyper but still quite innocent student miasma to a demi monde entirely more sleazy and worrying. That's when the crew starts dropping off. The girls resist at first but then see the advantage of ganging and join the loose canon Alien. He has a territorial problem with the reigning thug and the scene is set for showdown. This happens in one of the film's most extraordinary setpieces that involves an eerie use of dayglo colour against the night's darkness and some chunky violence.

If you saw a synopsis of this film or one of its trailers and dismissed it as a kind of Schoolies Week Sharknado spit that out and get yourself in front of a copy. The girls might seem to plane out into functionality but their performances reward the eye for nuance. What do you really need to know about these characters off screen, anyway? It is, as others have justly celebrated elsewhere, James Franco who really delivers as Alien. His take on Gary Oldman's Drexl (True Romance) has the detail of scholarship but the innovation of craft; the performance is tribute rather than ripoff.

And above it all and blending from all other sides, a festival of colour, sound and form creates an effect as thrilling as attraction and as troubling as repulsion. This might have been a poor later cover version of Natural Born Killers if it weren't for touches that lift it out of reach of such a charge. Take the fresh-breathed  and mercifully irony-free performance of Britney Spears' Everytime as the girls in pink balaclavas join Alien at his white baby grand piano poolside. Their artless voices blend with the fade up of the original and the effect is one of the most weirdly moving musical numbers I've seen on film. Now that's how Harmony Korine's reputation should've been made. See.

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