AUSTIN – Since Sunday night at approximately midnight, people have been asking me what I thought of Spring Breakers.
And the lame answer I keep giving them is: “I don’t know.”
The setup is simple: Four college coeds fund their spring break trip by knocking off a chicken shack in their little town. Once they make it to Panama City, Fla., any internal partying governors they may have had are released. And in scene after scene (after scene) we are witnesses to their seemingly very high tolerance for booze, drugs and anything else they can get their hands on.
Of course, they eventually run afoul of the law and are booked on a possession charge. But lucky for them, they’re bailed out by a low-level hood played by James Franco. He’s pretty much a walking rap video – all fast cars, exotic weapons and illicit substances. The remainder of the film pretty much follows their collective partying mixed in with occasional bursts of violence. There’s a bit of an open-ended finale, but don’t worry – this ain’t Inception.
So back to my inability to weigh in. On the one hand, Spring Breakers is an exercise in repetition – a treadmill of a movie. Party, gun play, bikini change, repeat. On the other, director Harmony Korine is a master of style. The only substance in Spring Breakers is the illegal kind. But Korine has an expert eye for images and a deft touch at piecing together scenes. Who else would have Franco sit down at his outdoor piano to play Britney Spears’ “Everytime,” and morph that into a montage of the girls and their gangster violently robbing unsuspecting spring breakers?
The real question in Spring Breakers dates back to the ancient Romans: Are you not entertained?
It’s hard to not answer yes.
It helps to see it with the crowd assembled at the Paramount Theater on Sunday night. I waited in the longest line I’ve ever waited in in my nine years of coming to SXSW – five city blocks long. So I think these folks were really hoping to like something they’d stood in line for hours to see.
During the Q&A after the show, Franco pretty much summed up what’s at work here. He talked about how Korine created a space where the actors could go as far as they wanted.
“Harmony makes a movie that could support that character, and that’s why I could go so crazy is because there was no way to go over the top.”
What it really comes down to is: Climbing and climbing as high as you can in search of over-the-top is it’s own kind of thrill – one Spring Breakers strives for earnestly. But there will be plenty who understandably won’t have the stomach for the ride.