A Letter to Matt Concerning Spring Breakers
I am very pleased to have you aboard this semi-defunct vessel. For much of my adult life you have been my ideal reader anyway: my Bouhilet, the Greenwald to my Chris Ryan. The man who understood the literary potential of a zombified Abraham Lincoln before it came to be unanimously acknowledged by our peers. Mostly I would like to see you class up this joint, if at all possible, to better serve a readership that already stretches into the dozens.
So, Spring Breakers finally came out here in Istanbul last week. I brought a lady friend who I’ve been courting to come see it with me, a course of action I cannot recommend in good conscience. I would not describe its nudity as “tasteful.” But man, if you take her to see Spring Breakers and she bails, it was never meant to be. (I have a history of taking prospective ladies to grossly inappropriate entertainments, including a trips to see a child-sexual-abuse-themed-play and Mulholland Drive on what were, technically, our first two dates).
Which is not to say that Spring breakers is lacking as a diagnostic tool. Tolerance/appreciation for what Spring Breakers is trying to do to its viewers discloses much about one’s character.
The plot, in outline, one can dispatch briskly: four college girls knock over a chicken joint in order to buy themselves a trip to St. Petersburg, where a hard-partying montage draw sucks them into the criminal web of rapper slash drug dealer slash cornrow enthusiast “Alien,” portrayed by James Franco. A crime spree ensues, and Gucci Mane figures prominently in the denouement.
To be honest I was not buying what this film was selling for the first half. The dames, perhaps intentionally, have barely distinct personalities. When they are not robbing people they just narrate emails to their moms extolling the transformative impact of travel over a turgid montage of them getting slammered/blazed with other bikini enthusiasts. There is a lot of impossibly nubile slow-motion nudity. A goodly quantity, gradually acquiring a kind of audiovisual wallpaper quality. “Is Bolivian bouillon snarfed from bare sweater cows?” you may ask. I am too much of a gentleman to say.
But then, right after intermission (there are intermissions in Turkey), we hit a decisive point. The ladies have retreated to James Franco’s bedroom, where he’s showing off all his sweet stuff – his nunchuks, his cologne collection, his custom headboard, his machine guns. And so while Franco and these girls are lolling around on his bed in a quasi-erotic fashion and admiring the fruits of his labours, one of the girls playfully sticks a loaded gun in his face. And then the other girl eggs her on, telling him to put the gun in his mouth. And then this escalates to the point where the girls are semi-menacingly berating him, ordering him to suck on this gun as if it were a human penis. At which point Franco enthusiastically fellates a handgun.
Sold, Spring Breakers! From here on out I was on board. The ladies proceed to don neon balaclavas and black sweatpants with “DTF” emblazoned across the rear in large metallic lettering. They proceed sway around dreamily with their kalashnikovs as James Franco plays Britney Spears’ “Everytime” on his poolside grand piano. This was exactly the aesthetic experience I had been seeking when I walked into that theatre. Over its second half it gets a kind of mouseketeer Scarface vibe cooking, which I was behind 100%.
A word concerning Franco: he’s great here. James has this weird quality as an actor, where he seems to simultaneously stand inside and outside of whatever character he’s playing. He always seems to be putting you on, but also entirely sincere at the same time. This can be disastrous, but for some reason it just works here, where he is playing the most ridiculous human being imaginable.
There is a lot going on, like, thematically in this film. From the montages and the letters home you’d get this sense that the film is a conscious tribute to/parody of the transformative power of youthful consumerism. There’s some overt racial stuff in there, too. Spring Breakers is by no means a seaworthy vessel for this freight.
What worked, for me, was this turnaround they pull on Franco. Spring Break is an seemingly institution built around women abasing themselves for the sake of bros, and that is what gets reversed here. As a feminist, I am on the record: I am willing to tolerate a lot of cheesecake if the underlying message is that women are the arbiters of their own pleasures. And these women are. Spring break foreverrrrrr……