In Too Deep: Girls Gone Wild In ‘Lovelace’ & ‘Spring Breakers’

amanda-seyfried-adam-brody-lovelace-poolAh, porn. The redheaded stepchild of cinema proper. Hollywood has a fascination with the stuff, even if not a whole lot of movies explore the industry in depth. The most famous is, of course, Boogie Nights, the gold standard to which all films about the adult entertainment industry will now be held up. The latest such film, Lovelace, has plenty in common with Paul Thomas Anderson’s breakout masterpiece — a 70s setting, a tone that veers between comedy and sinister drama, an opening act where the antagonist is a very disapproving mother, and an overall pessimistic attitude about the industry’s effect on its performers.

Movies about porn always have to dance around the most explicit bits, at one point usually obscuring an act that we’d get a full-on closeup of in an actual adult film. I think filmmakers like the challenge of skating right up to that line. Plenty of stars were obviously fascinated enough by the subject matter to appear in Lovelace, for almost any speaking part — no matter how big or small — is played by a recognizable star. Not many of them are playing porn stars, but still — there’s something about this forbidden medium, the one a legitimate actor couldn’t possibly be associated with without becoming a has-been and a punchline, that tempts them to do the next best thing: become an “about-porn star.”

deep-throat-lovelace-afro-amanda-seyfriend-peter-sarsgaard If you asked most people who Linda Lovelace was, they’d say, “She’s a porn a star.” If you asked Linda Lovelace, she’d probably say she’s a wife, mother, and activist for women’s rights. Lovelace bridges that gap quite nicely. It tells the story of a bashful girl growing up in a very conservative household, raised by parents played by Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick. That’s right — the ice pick killer from Basic Instinct and the T-1000 have settled down together and become good middle-class Christians in Florida, proof enough that age takes the verve out of us all. Linda is played by Amanda Seyfried in a performance that perfectly mixes naughty and nice, making up for her string of bombs lately (Gone, Red Riding Hood, In Time, The Big Wedding… and her shrill trilling in a barely-there performance in Les Miserables). At first she won’t smoke “grass” and has trouble performing her go-go duties at a roller rink, but eventually she finds her confidence. (It seems.)

Linda Lovelace became a household name in 1972 by starring in Deep Throat, an immensely popular porno that had her performing the titular act that no longer needs any introduction. What fewer people know about is how it was all engineered and controlled by her abusive husband Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard), and how she never had any inclination of her own to do porn in the first place. Lovelace is less a down-and-dirty peek behind the curtain of 70s dirty movies and more the story of a woman trying to wrest herself from the clutches of a very bad man, like a What’s Love Got To Do With It in which the heroine’s oral talents are quite different. The period details are just right and the script has an interesting structure, first presenting the story as it was seen by the outside world and then revealing what was going on behind the scenes between Chuck and Linda. It’s not a revelatory film, but it’s a good true story nicely told, with a lot of skilled actors in minor roles. (It’s kinda worth it just to see Sharon Stone playing a dowdy mom.)lovelace d1 _66.NEF

Porn plays a role in another release from earlier this year, though a more indirect one. The film was marketed on the image of former teen stars popping out of their bikinis, and all of spring break is sold on the pornographic promise of girls gone wild. And in that respect, Spring Breakers certainly delivers. Spring Breakers is a uniquely terrible movie, which is to say, it is terrible in a different way than any other film I’ve seen has been terrible before. It is one of the most repetitive films I’ve ever seen, with actual lines of dialogue being repeated time and time again — not to mean a different thing each time, but the same way every time. There are also scenes in which the same idea is repeated five or ten times through different lines of dialogue. Various spring break clips recur throughout the movie, sometimes with enhanced effects, but basically with the same purpose. Everything in it is thuddingly obvious — in fact, you could watch the opening five minutes depicting a booze–and-nudity-drenched beach party and shut it off, and come away with exactly the same message.

Harmony Korine isn’t exactly known for making the most accessible fare, and Spring Breakers is his highest-profile release. (He’s still best known as the writer of Kids, but he’s since directed some that are only digestible to a certain palette.) Spring Breakers is notable for being that movie where a bunch of former Disney teens “go wild,” and that they do. There’s booze, drugs, girl-on-girl action, and even armed robbery. Unfortunately, the girls are mostly indistinguishable from each other, except for the one that’s brunette and Selena Gomez. She’s the religious character, and guess what her name is? Yes, Faith. (Did I mention that this movie wasn’t subtle?) Those played by Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, and Rachel Korine aren’t really characters at all, but more like a three-headed beast from Greek mythology (with about as much depth and backstory). It’s a curious choice to make the religious girl so very different from the others, and then pay absolutely no attention to any distinguishing traits of the others. Then again, pretty much everything about Spring Breakers falls under the umbrella of “a curious choice.”spring-breakers-rachel-korine-jock-strap-nudity

There’s nothing inherently wrong with an in-your-face party movie about girls gone wild, especially one that is ultimately condemning the whole experience. The spring break parties are so over-the-top that they don’t look like fun in the slightest, even if everyone in them is having the time of their lives. (In case it wasn’t visually clear, they verbalize how much they “love it here” about 600 times.) The flowing booze and countless jiggling breasts in our face soon take on a numbing effect, so that what initially seems outrageous becomes mundane within minutes. Even Joe Francis’ eyes might glaze over during this one.

Whole sections of this film could easily be mistaken for a Girls Gone Wild video, but it’s when our heroines start talking that the shallow ideas driving the film become even more in-your-face than those bouncing tits. It’s pretty hard to be less subtle than a bikini-less drunk girl on spring break, but Korine’s dialogue manages to do it. A lot of it sounds improvised — but that’s a problem when you’re dealing with actors who have only ever read lines from Disney sitcoms and High School Musical. I swear, if you played a drinking game in which you took a shot every time a line of dialogue was repeated verbatim, you’d be dead by the end of the movie.spring-breakers-girls-beach

It’s too bad, because stylistically, the film has some panache. There are a lot of monologues delivered in voiceover with hypnotic tropical imagery underneath — like a Girls Gone Wild directed by Terrence Malick (and scored by Skrillex). The very image of college girls in bikinis and ski masks, wielding guns, is arresting, and the fluorescent lighting and moody score are striking. Certainly this subject matter is rife for some kind of cinematic exploration. It’s nice that Korine at least tried to make a serious movie about it, and it’s hard to knock a movie that features not one but two ironic Britney Spears sing-alongs (to “Baby One More Time” and, more confoundingly, “Everytime.”) James Franco’s performance as Alien is also something to behold — not exactly good, but far more suitable than anything he did in Oz The Great And Powerful. My guess is those silver-capped teeth were custom-made to chew the scenery.

But Spring Breakers takes forever to really get going, and when it does, it ends up going nowhere. The end is ludicrous in a way that must be intentional,but why? Ironic calls home to mom and grandma sell spring break as a place of lifelong friends and spiritual reawakening, but who the hell thinks about spring break like that? It feels Harmony Korine is reaching to satirize something that doesn’t exist in the first place. Spring Breakers is maybe a takedown of current youth culture, the video game-like disassociation “kids these days” have with violence and the consequences of their actions. It’s maybe a critique of anyone who ever watched MTV’s spring break coverage and thought that looked like fun. Maybe it’s a dig at America itself. Regardless, like any good vacation that goes on too long, by the end all I wanted was it for to end so I could go home. Alien’s recurring mantra “Spring break forever!” begins to sound like a serious threat after a while.spring-breakers-james-franco-vanessa-hudgens-ashley-benson-gun-blow-job

There’s another recent film worth mentioning in which porn plays a significant role, though that ends up being something of a surprise. Starlet is the story of an aimless young woman in Los Angeles who, for a long stretch of the film, apparently has no job. Jane lives with Melissa and Mikey and her little dog Starlet, though the film isn’t about the dog the way most movies named after pooches are. The film actually follows the problematic friendship between Jane and Sadie, an elderly woman she meets at a yard sale. Why problematic? Well, Jane bought a Thermos from Sadie and then discovered a whole bunch of cash stuffed inside. She doesn’t attempt to return the money, instead using it to shop and pay her rent, but guilt does gnaw at her so that she practically stalks Sadie until the old woman relents into an uneasy friendship with her.

It is eventually revealed that Jane works in porn, as do Melissa and Mikey. A porn star befriending an old lady sounds like the logline for some odd, raunchy buddy comedy where tender life lessons are learned along the way, but that’s thankfully not the movie Starlet is. Not even close. Director and co-writer Sean Baker avoids such easy story beats in favor of a story that takes its time and unfolds at its own pace, and never forgets that Jane and Sadie are characters from different worlds who will stay that way regardless of what occurs between them.james-ransone-stella-maeve-starlet

There’s a pornographic scene that is surprisingly explicit, which would have earned the film an easy NC-17 had it been rated. Starlet has a frank approach toward the adult film industry without the operatic stylings of something like Boogie Nights (or Lovelace). There’s no judgment placed on Jane; she seemingly has no qualms about what she does, and doesn’t seem emotionally damaged in any way we can tell.  (Though she is aimless and lonely.) The Melissa character is the more extreme version of the kind of girl you might expect to find in middle-of-the-road porn, and her explosive breakdown is one of the film’s comic highlights. The filmmakers did extensive research on the adult industry in preparation, and that shows. Its depiction of porn seems as accurate as any that’s appeared in a fictionalized film before.

As fascinating as that is, Starlet really hinges on Jane’s relationship with Sadie, and it’s pretty awesome that a grumpy old lady can hold her own against the porn industry and still come out as the most alluring character on screen. Sadie is a grumpy old bitch (you know the type); she doesn’t want anyone or anything to interfere with her small little life. She resists Jane’s offer of friendship countless times, even going so far as to macing her after a game of Bingo. (Then again, Jane kind of deserves it.) Sadie is a rich and complex character, and she never ceases to be fascinating. We learn more about her in every scene. She’s played by Besedka Johnson, a non-actress who was discovered at the age of 85 and unfortunately passed away earlier this year. She left behind only one performance, but it’s a perfect one.

Late in Starlet, the plot threatens to become a little too by-the-numbers, as Jane and Sadie plan a trip to Paris just when Sadie learns some unsavory information about Jane. The film could have gone off the rails in a number of ways, with some tired confrontation scene or just a wallow in misery, but instead the film ends on an immaculate note of subtlety and grace. Starlet was released last year and recently appeared streaming on Netflix; I wish I’d seen it earlier, because it certainly would have been one of my favorite films of last year.starlet-besedka-johnson-dree-hemingway-jane-sadie

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One thought on “In Too Deep: Girls Gone Wild In ‘Lovelace’ & ‘Spring Breakers’

  1. Pingback: Livin’ In a Bubble – Spring Breakers Review | Film Louvre

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