Tuesday, January 7, 2014

We Might Be Hollow, But We're Brave: Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring (and Lorde)

But every song's like: Gold teeth, Grey Goose, Tripping in the bathroom, Bloodstains, Ball gowns, Trashing the hotel roomWe don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams
But everybody's like: Crystal, Maybach, Diamonds on your timepiece, Jet planes, Islands, Tigers on a gold leashWe don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair
Why the hook from Lorde's uber-phenomenonal song, Royals? It isn't just that I'm madly in love with the girl who makes me feel largely inadequate as someone in a school year ahead of her (damn you talent god for not making me musical), but because Royals became somewhat of an anthem for the NZ teenager, and somehow the rest of the world caught on. I mean, last week (or last year, whatever), I bought a copy of Vogue Magazine, purely because it had Jessica Chastain on the cover, and I was confused by how there were 65 pages of advertisements before the actual magazine started, and one of the options for a Christmas gift were $490 place-card name holders. Like, it was a big deal that I spent $25 on buying my Mum The Heat for Christmas. But hey, this is a reality for some people - and that reality is something that has been touched upon by many films in 2013 that I've unofficially called the "Look at My Shit New Wave". Falling under the umbrella of this slice of history that we'll no doubt be studying in a few years is The Wolf of Wall Street, Side Effects, Blue Jasmine, Pain & Gain, The Great Gatsby and The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers, which I'll be focusing on in this post. I'm told that films like American Hustle and The Counselor could fall under this umbrella, but I haven't had a chance to see them yet.

It is kinda funny how Lorde's music became big in 2013, defining teenagerdom, when we had The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers to define teenagerdom in film (bar The Spectacular Now, which paints a different, if equally true picture). The funny thing is that several songs off Lorde's album, particularly 'White Teeth Teens' and 'Tennis Court' wouldn't be out of place if they were to headline the soundtracks of those two films. They both depict the obsessive nature of teenagers, and how they dream of projecting a better life filled with diamonds on their timepieces and tigers on gold leashes. However, where The Bling Ring has already privileged teens wanting more, Spring Breakers has empty teenagers left broke and bored by their studies trying to achieve the kind of life the kids of The Bling Ring already have.




The Bling Ring is all about privilege. And the thing is, it doesn't pretend to be anything else. Sofia Coppola never gives her characters a chance to explain themselves. Well, she doesn't give the ringleader, Rebecca (Katie Chang), any chance to explain herself. She just moves in and out, googling celebrities and targeting their houses, and letting her friends join in. All we see is her taking selfies with her newly acquired labels so she can be somewhat of a rockstar (but why? It seems so stupid to be putting STOLEN GOODS on THE INTERNET). And essentially, that's all these teenagers want. That's all any teenager wants. We don't know if these teenagers are popular in their high schools. We do know that they have plenty of Facebook friends and enjoy putting their selfies up of their nights in clubs and in Paris Hilton's house. These people certainly aren't empty or lonely in their privileged lives, they're just looking for something to boost them up and make them look even cooler. Excess, guys.

"You'll get the picture of your dreams, I won't be smiling but the notes from my admirers fill the dashboard just the same" - arguably the best song line ever from 'White Teeth Teens'
And then, hey, they achieve fame by having their security tapes put on TMZ. And guess what? Rebecca still wants more. She doesn't think they can tell who she is, and it just shows that she can get away with it. Even if she can't be famous because of her face and her name, she can feel famous. It is all about the labels and the two-dimensional photos on Facebook, not about who she really is. And this, by all accounts, is Sofia Coppola's greatest achievement with this film: teenagers are empty. We are hollow creatures, with plenty of feelings but nothing to hold on to. We build ourselves from the outside rather from the inside, and that's exactly what these teenagers are doing: they have the labels, they have the Facebook photos. Just like Nikki (Emma Watson) says that her family does a lot of charity work, which is essentially throwing money at a charity, but she couldn't say for which country. It doesn't matter, though, because she can call herself a philanthropist. That doesn't mean that she is a philanthropist, but hey, at least it sounds good.


Spring Breakers, though, is a completely different beast. Harmony Korine's neon-coloured, Skrillex-filled American Dream fantasy was one of the most wildly divisive, controversial films of the year. Which, you know, is within reason: it starts with a montage of boobs and bikinis and beer and everything that is sinful about teenagers going wild without their parents. It is so gleefully over the top that it verges on parody. However, I do love what Korine did with this film, because he pushed boundaries and taboos. In the same way that Martin Scorsese did with The Wolf of Wall Street. They're two films that make the most of their R18 sticker, essentially seeing how much they can get away with.


The biggest problem that people seem to have, though, is that it is headlined by four girls that spend the majority of their time wearing bikinis. In the age of feminism and "let's not objectify or marginalise women", this was a huge red flag. However, what I like is that this isn't meant to be purely for eye candy. For one thing, these girls spend most of the film at the beach, do you expect them to wear puffer jackets and fat pants? They aren't objects, either. The one thing that separates the characters of The Bling Ring and the girls of Spring Breakers is that for better or for worse, the girls of Spring Breakers have a reason to do what they're doing at the beginning. They want to go to Spring Break because they're tired of the whole "same shit, different day" thing. They think that if they go somewhere different, they'll be able to build themselves up on the inside, and become better people. And at the end, despite all of the bad stuff they've done, they realise that they can come out of it as better people. They taste the American Dream, and it is bitter.


The girls aren't the symbols of the American Dream, it is Alien (James Franco) that is the American Dream, in all its gun-owning, corn-braided glory. The "look at my shit" scene is pretty much the scene that exemplifies 2013's obsession with excess on screen. Alien is made by his guns, his spaceship bed, his Calvin Klein fragrances and the fact that he can cover every corner of his life with money. It is the same with the team in The Bling Ring, the same with Jordan Belfort and all of his excess in The Wolf of Wall Street, the same with anything that shows excess anywhere. Which is what I find interesting: I'm not sure why the girls of Spring Breakers cop all the flak, since they're not the ones who are promoting this "look at my shit" craze. They're seduced by it, yes. But I think they're more seduced by the dangerous side of it. They're more seduced by the fact that they could get caught. That their lives are on the line. That's what gives them their worth. And that's even furthered by the end, when the girls no longer need Alien, and get stuff done by themselves. To all of you feminists out to get the film: yes, the girls serve a purpose to make Alien happy throughout the film so he can get them to do his dirty work, but then they come out of it and get stuff done themselves. What more could you want?


It is hard to say what lies in the future for the girls. They have the car, they have the money. Who knows, they could get arrested and never see the light of day again. Or they could follow through on their phone calls to their parents and go on to become better people. Do I think that they'll fall into the trap of the American Dream? I honestly can't see it. Sure, there are scenes of them giggling over the cash and throwing it up in the air, but I don't think they're all that materialistic. They don't seem hollow like the girls in The Bling Ring. Seriously, Spring Breakers deserves a heck of a lot more credit for its characterisation than people give it.

These are films about people getting "pumped up by the little bright things I bought". These are films about people who are "hollow, but they're brave". And essentially, these are films where people are "dropping glasses just to hear them break" - people who have everything, but pursue more. For a girl who's most famous song denounces the American Dream, Lorde wouldn't be out of place if her song was to be playing during a break-in or a pink-skied piano piece. However, I think 'Royals' is definitely more in tune with the girls of Spring Breakers - I think they crave a different kind of buzz to the world of luxury.

So, how do you feel about these films? What do you think lies in the future of these characters? And how do you think they rank in the 'Look At My Shit New Wave'?

75 comments:

  1. Great post!
    I definitely think that the girls from Spring Breakers are wayyyy less shallow and it is indeed a feminist picture about them coming on their own, tasting the bitter side of life but like on their own terms.
    I love that Sofia Coppola shows this world of privilege, but it's purely observational and she never actually seems to comment on any of the things the kids do because they show everything themselves.
    Though I'm not a huge fan of Lorde (she's a bit scary :/), I do like how you've connected all of this.

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    Replies
    1. I do like how observational Sofia is with her portrayal. I don't think the characters themselves had a reason for doing what they were doing, so I don't think she could've given us much of an explanation.

      Haha, Lorde is a bit scary. That's why her hair is so big, it's full of secrets...

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  2. Great post! I liked The Bling Ring 1000 times more than Spring Breakers. It's hard for me to put the latter in a positive light at all. I liked that the Bling Ring's seasons were just so simple. They wanted to look like the people they read about and they went to the insane extreme to pull it off. That was fascinating to me.

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    1. It is pretty fascinating, isn't it? I do have to applaud them for having that kind of courage, and at least they didn't focus their energies on getting plastic surgery to look like them.

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  3. Really liking the editorial kind of articles you've been publishing lately, Stevee. It's an awesome new direction your writing has been going, and, as always, I'm super excited to see what you've got in the pipeline this year.

    Loved the comparisons that you made between the three subjects, here. As with Nikhat, I'm not really a fan of Lorde (though I do find it quite amusing that Royals is played non-stop on a loop where I work at the moment, which always amuses me considering the context of the song), however she seems really in-tune with what she's doing and generally quite outgoing and smart, and I dig that. More power to the young generation ~. If you haven't checked out the Rookie interview with her that popped up a few days ago, I urge you to - http://rookiemag.com/2014/01/lorde-interview/ (she mentions the lyric about the notes on her dashboard that you mentioned in the interview, funnily enough).

    The Bling Ring was an interesting one for me. I was really looking forward to seeing it, as it focuses on a lot of my interests (mainly pop culture) and of course the fact it was directed by Sofia Coppola. Then, going into it, there wasn't anything there for me - nothing really stuck, bar the ending - and I felt a bit cold after leaving. Which is strange because it is a film that I should have loved, but didn't.

    I like the fact that you compared Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring on the basis of the American Dream, since, as films, they are really nothing alike but they share similar themes to an extent.

    Glad to hear that you've been digging Pain and Gain btw, it's an awesome film.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I just can't do reviews any more, they're sooooo boring. I like doing editorials so much more, so there'll definitely be more editorials this year!

      I have read that Rookie Mag article! Ah, I love that website and Tavi Gevinson. It is quite funny how Lorde doesn't love that line, I think it just perfectly epitomises most of the teenagers I know.

      I can see what you mean about The Bling Ring - it wasn't as good as it could have been. There were some strange parts and some missed opportunities, and while I loved how observational Sofia was, sometimes I felt like she didn't really understand the characters.

      YAY! Finally have someone on the Pain and Gain team! I have a post coming whenever I write it about that film and The Wolf of Wall Street. But yes, Pain and Gain is *so* awesome. Really underrated.

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  4. Wonderful post! I think The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers are definitely at the top of the films in this New Wave, and I love the way you tied Lorde's music into this movement. I could see these films being studied, for sure. Just think how many essays will be written about this trend. Fascinating stuff.

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    1. It is quite fascinating - and they say that cinema isn't capable of anything new these days!

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  5. I've been thinking about doing a post like this--a year in review on the corrupted American dream, but you've summed it up quite perfectly! This theme was definitely everywhere in 2013 and how relevant to our culture, right? It's disappointing that actually all of these movies received some sort of backlash, because their cautionary message is screaming for our attention! I guess no one wants to hear it!

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    1. It is weird how most of these American Dream movies have been labelled as controversial, when really their cautionary message is one that needs to be heard. I guess that people like controversy more than the truth!

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  6. This is a really good article and I agree with your thoughts about movies that show over excess. It seems like both the girls of Bling Ring and the girls of Spring Breakers want the same thing, but they achieve it through heinous acts. But it doesn't matter because we somehow like to celebrate such behavior through social media and shows like TMZ. I wish you were on The LAMBcast to talk about Spring Breakers you would have made some good insights that we didn't

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  7. This movie was great. It's kinda slow in some spots, but overall definitely worth watching if you like fashion and want to see stupid teenagers steal and party till they get caught.

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