Matchup of the Day: Spring Breakers vs. The Player
This time, we have two satirical films about “players” – a movie executive and a drug dealer. Let’s see how they come together with Spring Breakers vs. The Player.
James Franco garnered praise for his performance as the drug dealer Alien in Spring Breakers. When he caught wind that a sequel was in the works that had nothing to do with the original, Franco protested. He believed the sequel would only be a cheap cash-in. On behalf of Spring Breakers director, Harmony Korine, Franco said: “I’m speaking up for Harmony and his original vision and for any creative person who cares about preserving artistic integrity.”
Robert Altman’s The Player also brings up the issue of artistic integrity. The main character, studio executive Griffin Mill, spends his days listening to people pitch film ideas. The primary criteria for whether a story is deemed marketable or not is that it has a happy ending and that it will draw big name stars. Mill rejects far more scripts than he greenlights. At the beginning of the film, he starts receiving threatening postcards from an anonymous screenwriter he once snubbed. After several months, Mill attempts to determine the source of the threats. The clues point to an aspiring screenwriter named David Kahane, who Mill tracks down at a late screening of Bicycle Thieves (which doesn’t have a happy ending or big stars). Kane angrily rejects Mill’s conciliatory gesture. This leads to a scuffle, during which Mill accidentally kills Kahane. But Mill continues to receive the postcards. He killed the wrong guy.
Before the protagonists in Spring Breakers rob a restaurant to finance their Florida vacation, one says “Just pretend it’s a f**king video game. Act like it’s a movie or something.” Later in the film, when they meet Alien, he tells them, while showing off all his guns, “I got Scarface on repeat. Constant, y’all.” It could be said that each of the primary characters in Spring Breakers are living in a world of make believe to some extent. Of the four female friends, only one, Faith, does not embrace the gangsta mentality. Instead, she is devoutly religious. She views their spring break trip almost as a pilgrimage for self-discovery. The others are much more interested in debauchery. Faith finds Alien menacing, and his lifestyle counter to her idealized view of what the spring break experience should be, while her friends are drawn to his dangerous charms. Disillusioned, she is the first of them to return home.
Mill’s rival in The Player is another executive, Larry Levy, who believes that screenwriters are overpaid and unnecessary, reasoning that story ideas can just be randomly pulled from the newspaper. Mill is given a pitch for a story, entitled Habeas Corpus, with a downer ending, and involving no famous actors, about a woman wrongly sentenced to death row. The selling point, supposedly, is that it will represent reality rather than another Hollywood fairy tale. Mill passes it on to Levy knowing that it’s not a marketable idea. Levy thinks it’ll be a hit and convinces the studio head to approve it. Meanwhile, the police start questioning Mill as a suspect in the death of Kahane.
Alien’s rival in Spring Breakers is another drug dealer, Big Arch, who was also Alien’s mentor. Big Arch is angry that Alien is encroaching on his profits. As a means of intimidation, he pulls up next to Alien’s car on the street and randomly opens fire. One of the remaining three girls, Cotty, is hit in the arm. While she enjoyed working for Alien, getting shot proves to be too gangsta for her. Cotty is the second of the friends to return home. The final two (probably the most sociopathic), Candy and Brit, team up with Alien to get revenge against Big Arch.
Mill is eventually cleared of the murder. He also becomes studio head after the Habeas Corpus doesn’t test well with audiences. The ending of the film is changed to a happy one. Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts are the stars. Mill’s former girlfriend, a story editor who he left to date Kahane’s girlfriend, is the only person to protest that the film sold out its original intent. She gets fired. Mill drives home to Kahane’s girlfriend, who is now his wife. On the way, he receives a phone call from Levy with a story pitch. It turns out that the real person who was sending Mill the postcards is the person pitching the story to Levy. It’s about a studio executive who kills a man and gets away with it. Mill agrees to approve the script provided that the ending of the story doesn’t change, that the executive is never caught. When Mill arrives home, his wife asks what took him so long. He replies that “Traffic was a bitch”, which is the final line from Habeas Corpus.
Clad in matching bikinis and armed, Candy and Brit set out with Alien to storm Big Arch’s mansion. Alien is shot dead immediately. Brit and Candy proceed to kill everyone in sight, including Big Arch. They become the biggest gangstas of them all. This makes sense, if one considers that some interpretations of the film point out that it’s about white people appropriating gangsta, and, as an extension, black culture. Even Alien was a more legitimate gangsta than Brit or Candy. Big Arch, his mentor, was black. Brit and Candy seem to be supernaturally adept at being criminals. They never suffer any injuries or consequences from their actions. Unlike in the beginning, where they pretended to be in a movie while using squirt guns to commit robbery, their antisocial fantasies become a reality at the end. During the shootout, in voiceover, one of the girls reflects (ironically, in the context of the film) on her growth as a person. The final line in the film is “Spring break forever, bitches.”