There’s a moment in Richard Linklater’s mildly diverting—though grossly overtouted—magnum opus Boyhood that aptly serves as the point of departure for my critical reaction to it. It’s photography class, and slacking high schooler Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is frittering around in the dark room instead of buckling down and honing his craft, a fact that his snitty teacher accosts him about. Sure, the guy’s a scruffy-bearded, sanctimonious pusbag, but even a douche can be right sometimes.
There are films that ramble, films that pander, and films that needlessly exploit. Spring Breakers achieves the rare dishonor of excelling at all three. Apparently director Harmony Korine believes that the best way of satirizing the moral decadence that continues to rip apart society’s seams is to rub peoples’ noses in sex and violence. Given the maturity level of your average sex-starved teeny-bopper wannabe, that’s like giving a chocolate bar to a six-year-old and reprimanding him for enjoying it. Spring Breakers, despite its pseudo-intellectual pretensions, has the essential qualities of a mass-audience-pleasing film. Korine’s acid-rave cinematography, spiraling around beaches and party rooms showing off bikini-clad bods, glamorizes the lusts for nether pleasures. Everyone knows that the weenie is an easier muscle to work than the brain.
Sideways, an excursion of two middle-aged friends into California wine country that has all the outward trappings of a nachos-and-cheese experience—bromance; loose women; and, above all, near-constant imbibing—manages to retain its own philosophy without crashing headlong into the aesthetic dead-end of excessive pleasure-seeking of either the bibulous or libidinous kind. On life’s roads, there’s rarely a direct route, might begin an interpretation of the film’s intriguingly cryptic title. And that’s a good thing. The smaller side streets that wind around the detours of human sorrow often arrive at sunnier shores.