Archive for January 2009

Spring Breakdown

January 16, 2009

The first question that pops to mind regarding Spring Breakdown: Why is this thing rated R? “Crude humor and sexual references,” we’re told, but there’s nothing stronger than you’d see in a typical PG-13 flick. Or nothing I can recall. Most of the movie, in fact, defies memory. And that’s surprising, considering we’ve got Amy Poehler, Parker Posey, and Rachel Dratch.

These three comedy powerhouses play late-thirties women, bored and boring, who find themselves spending a week at a college spring-break bacchanal. Predictably, each of them learns important you-go-girl life lessons. Ten or fifteen years ago, they wouldn’t have had to learn anything. They could’ve boozed, fucked, and partied just like the boys do. But since they’re, like, old, we have to watch them being humbled and redeemed.

Missi Pyle doesn’t learn anything, and she steals the movie. She plays a blowsy southern broad about our heroines’ age who never stops partying. At certain points, the three leads are allowed that sort of freedom. Dratch, who also cowrote the story and coproduced, gives her rubber face plenty of play as a sexually frustrated woman who gets some alcohol in her and then wants something else in her. Poehler goes off with a group of seven insufferable popular girls, trying to be accepted into their fold. Posey gets stuck in the most disappointing subplot, keeping tabs on the daughter (Amber Tamblyn) of a hard-driving senator (Jane Lynch) who’s about to become vice-president.

Despite all that, the trio make fun company for 84 minutes, and Frank G. DeMarco’s cinematography is as colorful and candy-like as it was in his films for John Cameron Mitchell. Raunchy female-centered comedies are rare enough (I think you’d have to go back to The Sweetest Thing for the last one) that one wants to give Spring Breakdown a pass just for existing. But that would be sexist, in a way; Poehler, Posey and Dratch are strong enough not to need the charity of lowered standards. I laughed a few times, mostly at Missi Pyle’s antics. If the movie does nothing else, it gives Pyle a juicy supporting role. And the climactic musical number is nicely played. The film is comfort food when it could’ve gone to cult-classic heaven.

Donkey Punch

January 2, 2009

The most effective part of the self-consciously “edgy” Donkey Punch is the soundtrack. A blend of techno remixes and a foreboding score by François-Eudes Chanfrault, it’s unsettling. The music seems to emerge from a muffled place of oblivious madness, where drugs are taken on a yacht at sea, bodies are for pleasure and pain, and anything can and does happen. The tone is pounding yet ethereally spooky.

The rest of Donkey Punch, despite some skillful button-pushing by first-time feature director Olly Blackburn, is hit and miss. It’s another movie that American horror fans without access to film festivals had been desperate to see since its Sundance debut in 2008 (the British import will finally come stateside, in what I assume will be a cut version, in a few weeks). As with All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, don’t get your hopes up. The movie toys with transgression but then drops it in favor of the familiar tangled-web thrills.

A donkey punch, for the uninitiated, is a likely made-up sexual practice wherein a man, riding a woman from behind, punches her in the back of the head or neck upon his orgasm — this supposedly makes her muscles spasm. “And what does the woman get out of it?” asks Kim (Jaime Winstone) of Bluey (Tom Burke), the harelipped lout relating this kink. “I don’t understand the question,” he quips. Nice guy.

The movie follows Kim and her mates Lisa (Sian Breckin) and Tammi (Nichola Burley) aboard a yacht docked off of Majorca and left in the care of four twentysomething guys, mostly interchangeable, who work on the boat. The owners are away, so the mice will play: the youngsters get up to shenanigans, including consumption of ecstasy and “Russian ice,” before Kim and Lisa retire below decks for an orgy with three of the guys. The more chaste Tammi, the designated Final Girl as seen in a thousand slasher movies, stays up top with kinder, gentler Sean (Robert Boulter). Ultimately, Sean’s meth-addled brother Josh (Julian Morris) deals the titular blow to one of the women, whereupon the movie becomes Very Bad Things on a yacht.

The desperation and paranoia get thick, as does the Karo syrup. The going gets rough and nasty, but also predictable. If you have the stomach for Donkey Punch, you’ve seen it before in some form or another. We feel locked out of the characters early on — we’re not so much introduced to the young women as thrown in with them at a party — so we don’t care who lives or dies, and the script dutifully punishes the sexually active women in a way that can’t be explained away by John Carpenter’s defense (that the girls are too busy bonking to perceive a threat). Other than the way that self-styled bad-ass Bluey squeals like a wimp in a key moment, the film lacks surprise and leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. As in Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave, we’re roughly handled for the sheer bullying sake of it, and so that a rookie director can graduate from commercials and videos with a buzzed-about, controversial calling card.

And it has attracted some controversy: Amanda Platell of the Daily Mail called it “the most distasteful, depraved and nihilistic film I have ever had the misfortune to sit through” and bemoaned its partial funding by the UK Film Council, i.e. British taxpayers. (I’m sure Platell’s endorsement ensured a few extra tickets sold.) The movie’s greatest sin is not its distastefulness, depravity or nihilism; it’s that, unlike some throwback gorefests I’ve given high marks to, it isn’t any fun. And Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (either version) sort of spoils you for run-of-the-mill, paint-by-the-numbers thrillers like this, however hard it strains to be diabolical.

If Platell’s review, or mine, has peaked your morbid interest, don’t bother — the movie’s reputation as a shocker stuffed with gore and sex is overblown. If you’re a horror fan, you’ve already got it on your shelves several times over. Nothing much to see here.