This is the fuckin’ American dream. This is my fuckin’ dream, y’all! All this sheeyit! Look at my sheeyit! I got… I got SHORTS! Every fuckin’ color. I got designer T-shirts! I got gold bullets. Motherfuckin’ VAM-pires. I got Scarface. On repeat. SCARFACE ON REPEAT. Constant, y’all! I got Escape! Calvin Klein Escape! Mix it up with Calvin Klein Be. Smell nice? I SMELL NICE! That ain’t a fuckin’ bed; that’s a fuckin’ art piece. My fuckin’ spaceship! U.S.S. Enterprise on this shit. I go to different planets on this motherfucker! Me and my fuckin’ Franklins here, we take off. TAKE OFF! Look at my shit. Look at my shit! I got my blue Kool-Aid. I got my fuckin’ NUN-CHUCKS. I got shurikens; I got different flavors. I got them sais. Look at that shit, I got sais. I got blades! Look at my sheeyit! This ain’t nuttin’, I got ROOMS of this shit! I got my dark tannin’ oil… lay out by the pool, put on my dark tanning oil… I got machine guns… Look at this, look at this motherfucker here! Look at this motherfucker! Huh? A fucking army up in this shit! – Alien (James Franco)
This is what I consider the second part of my ‘Florida Is a Weird Fucked Up Place’ season of movies, along with Pain and Gain, the love letter to weirdos from Michael Bay. This is the art house version by controversialist Harmony Korine, who has made a career out of oversexed and overdrugged teenager, with much pretentious crap written about his work. It works due to the very strong visuals, music and the story which works really effectively to show the great absence of humanity in these characters. Here, I hypocritically start writing pretentious crap about this film.
Four girls are attending an American university somewhere Southern: Faith (Selena Gomez), Brittany (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine). All the girls except Faith are purely hedonistic party girls who are wild even by the standards of this school and are all keen to go on ‘spring break’ but don’t have the cash, so their logical next step is to steal a pick up and stage an armed robbery. Once they get onto their spring break, they decide to drink and fuck about until their money runs out. Faith is the only one with a modicum of restraint. As her name suggests she is the religious, marginally more moral of the four. I hasten to add it doesn’t stop her enjoying the hedonism of the spring break or her enjoyment of the stolen cash, using rhetorical gymnastics to justify the violent robbery. After a fairly lengthy time they are arrested and then bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a local petty criminal with appalling taste, an obsession with money and showing off. He introduces the girls to a desirable way of living that puts off Faith who drops out around the half way mark. As with all these movies, things end with ambiguity, death and drives into the dark.
So why was this movie talked about so much and why is it already such a cult hit? It has absolutely no moral centre and all the characters are all largely unpleasant shits. Faith is the most grounded character and the most misleading as her narration to her grandmother is copied by other characters throughout the movie as a way of deceiving both the audience and the intended recipient. It is an accurate depiction of how teens only give out the vaguest information. The covering of the deceit is a clever way of trying to show the audience ‘this is what they don’t want you to see’ without making it explicit which is a very neat way of showing the two sides of the characters.
When looking at the characters, there is so little about them which is worthwhile but James Franco’s ‘Alien’ is a remarkable character, always talking at 100 miles an hour and constantly showing off his wealth or trying to pull each girl in turn. Franco shows a remarkable flexibility because playing a shithead is often one of the greatest challenges and the way he plays him is extraordinary, from the wild boasting (such as the opening quote) to the quiet scenes such as him playing a Britney Spears song on the piano or his regret that he couldn’t make up with his mate, a black gangster. This makes him a surprisingly nuanced character compared with the rest who are largely two dimensional. The girls aren’t particularly interesting as they are mostly psychopaths. They don’t have a huge amount of depth except by being the unusual sight of ‘barely legal teens’ threatening to kill and play acting an armed robbery. In many ways Franco’s character carries the movie and it’s a shame that he arrives comparatively late as the focus on the four girls makes it visuals over story, which in this case is ‘look how much sex and drink they have on spring break and let’s look at it all over and over again with some Skillrex and bright overexposed cinematography to really emphasise the heat and the noise’.
As an aside, I have been to St Petersburg, Florida where the film’s set and while I remember it as being brash loud and American, I don’t know why it was chosen for this movie as the centre of spring break as it is a rather soulless American tourist trap with the typical faceless hotels. Despite moaning about it plenty, I did really enjoy the movie, just not as much as Pain and Gain which I found more entertaining but if you liked one you will like the other.
Review by Harry Riedl