The other night while I was channel surfing, I came across Harmony Korine’s cautionary film about four young women on that annual rite of passage known as spring break. I’d seen the movie before and knew of its reputation before I’d even seen it the first time. Korine wrote the screenplay for the similarly controversial Kids, directed by Larry Clark (another man who’s turned “youthsploitation” into a genre). He’s also known for his visual virtuosity, which Spring Break has in spades. In fact, there’s not much dialogue in Spring Break, but what’s there is “cherce,” as the joke says.But let’s get back to the story, such as it is.
Four young women (including former Disney child stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens) venture to St. Petersburg, Florida for spring break and, along the way, get mixed up with a charismatic drug dealer, played by James Franco. Right there, you have a recipe for controversy.
As I said, there’s not much dialogue in the film and the visuals mostly consist of shots of various nubile young men and women partying and cavorting on the beach and in hotel rooms in skimpy clothes, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and doing large amounts of drugs, all without much consequence (in the beginning, at least). If any parents were watching this film, these scenes alone would give them a heart attack.
It’s kind of interesting to watch these scenes from the perspective of a middle-aged gay man, as well. While I was hoping for more shots of scantily clad young men (and you do get a glimpse of some young men in jock straps), I found myself mildly aroused even by the shots of scantily clad young women. The fact that I’m middle-aged adds an extra level of creepiness to the proceedings.
But that’s just it. It’s not so much young male or female bodies on display, so much as youth itself, and therein lies the movie’s appeal with older viewers such as yours truly.
There are a couple of scenes that really encapsulate the movie for me.
One is a scene of James Franco playing Britney Spears’ “Everytime” on a white piano near the ocean at sunset while the three young women dance around him wearing nothing but bikinis and ski caps, holding their guns aloft. This scene epitomizes the guilty pleasure/have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too nature of the movie. It’s beautifully shot and perversely reminded me of “The Three Graces.” The Spears song seems to have been chosen as an obvious target for derision by intellectual elites, but it’s an undeniably beautiful song, as well. (Spears’ music seems to play a key role in the movie. In another scene, the girls sing and dance to “Hit Me Baby, One More Time.”)
The other scene that launches this movie into Scarface levels of reverence/self-parody, is a scene of James Franco standing on his bed, displaying his guns and various consumer possessions and saying “Look at my shit!” in a thick Florida accent. (I still think I might make a YouTube parody of this if I can put the right outfit together.)
This role is really a tour de force for Franco and is notable for another reason as well. For all the gay roles that Franco has played, there’s nothing more homoerotic than the scene where the girls make him suck on the end of a gun. (Again, have your cake and eat it too.)
There is some sort of justice at the end of this violent film, but it’s a mixed bag. Mostly, you’re left with memories of the panoramic sunsets, the guilt-free consumption of drugs, alcohol and sex; and the vision of James Franco jumping up and down on his bed and saying “Look at my shit!”