The signature Scorsese-voice-over narration is delivered by broker Jordan Belfort(Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Wolf of Wall Street which guides the viewer through his incredible rise to wealth starting the in late 1980’s to his later fall. Through shady stock dealings and money laundering conducted by his raunchy, raucous, debauched company Belfort lives a life of scamming and adrenaline chasing. There isn’t a drug that Belfort doesn’t ingest with gusto and frightening frequency or a woman either. The narrative voice-over device recalls the final scene of Goodfellas in which Ray Lilotta breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience. That technique is employed in this film right off the bat, which leads to it not being as powerful. Perhaps the light treatment of the story is due to the nearly unbelievable amount of partying the brokers engage in. The film abounds with prostitutes and cocaine depicted with filthy abandon. If the framing wasn’t so well done some might dare call this smutty. The ensemble cast is very entertaining, especially the unexpected inclusion of Joanna Lumley who slyly winks at her Absolutely Fabulous past. This film has an ambiguous theme of greed being destructive all the while making it look like a(mostly) grand old time. Watch The Wolf of Wall Street to see DiCaprio; his performance after ingesting antique quaaludes is physical comedic dynamite.
Dare I say that this film is stunning-looking? Intense neon light spills on every surface, lit with gels. The color is saturated, yet not as frenetic as in Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void. It’s at times downright dreamy, which is counterintuitive when speaking about a party/crime themed film. Spring Breakers, directed by Harmony Korine, has a plot which makes one ponder time and motive. A Malick-like voice-over of nebulous college women talking about “finding themselves” at spring break rests over dance music and intense Skrillex tracks. The young women are leaving their self-described bleak existence of college to party in sunny Florida. Sure, people like vacations, but these students act as if college is a terrible burden. College is a place one usually runs towards for freedom, not from. To the women college is a crushing place that only can be alleviated by beer and drug-drenched debauchery enjoyed with similarly-minded co-eds. The women go about procuring their traveling money in a malicious manner(robbery), sweep up their shy, Christian friend and head to The Sunshine State for adventure.
When in party paradise the women partake in an outrageous and provocative fashion, as has been noted in many a review. The camera rests heavily on the gyrating female bikini-clad women, which can feel off-putting and exploitive. I contend that it is not exploitive, as the gaze of the camera mirrors the gaze of college students who party in this way. The party scenes are explicit in conveying the sexist environment which is prevalent within the typical college population, therefore the camera placement feels sincere and almost accusatory towards such chauvinistic behavior.
The trajectory of the film drastically shifts when one character abruptly leaves Florida; this is the character who had been anchoring the film up to that point. This is a plot choice that makes the audience question who and what the film is about. Then it’s James Franco’s time to shine as the overblown, sexy/reviling small-time hood Alien. Franco is brave with this performance. He is obviously ridiculous, but that is who he is portraying: a fool with a big mouth and a bigger ego. There is one particularly tense scene in which Franco exhibits primal fear, perverse opportunism and the capacity for (misguided) love.
I am not personally acquainted with the young actresses’ clean work, so I cannot critique how much of a departure this film is for them. I do applaud their gusto and willingness to be free with their representation of blank, bored young women. Their ability to project the void of youth culture into amoral action is intriguing and compelling. Spring Breakers is a harsh story which is presented in soft, dreamy neon. The end credits run with Ellie Goulding’s song Lights underneath which serves as a relief after the intense and visually assaulting finale.