Directed by Harmony Korine
Lately I have been getting nostalgic from meeting and talking to friends old and new this past month who have also moved up north from Florida. This movie sort of came at the right time for me to reflect on what it means to be a product of “The Sunshine State” as well as how its culture is depicted in television and film both past and present.
Having lived in Florida nearly my entire life, including the parts where this film was shot (Clearwater, you are still the worst), it was really good to see St. Pete and Florida in general portrayed in this manner and not like every other movie or TV show set in Miami. Look, I love Scarface, Miami Vice and Billy Corben documentaries as much as the next person, but like, there ARE other cities in Florida you could shoot a movie in. Even the D-movie gem Miami Connection had to rep Miami even though it was filmed and takes place in Orlando. And the only other movies shot near the Tampa Bay area (Edward Scissorhands, The Punisher, the zoo scene in Goodfellas) don’t even really feature the city itself*. So for the (un)fortunate souls who have once or currently do call Florida home, then you will hopefully be pleased that Harmony Korine finally “gets it”.
[*NOTE: I haven’t seen Magic Mike, but realize it takes place in Tampa and is about strippers, another lesser-known Tampa trademark]
One major trait that often gets overlooked in movies and TV shows not named COPS, is that many parts of Florida is still “The South”. The city of Brandon has the largest hanging Confederate flag in all of the U.S. and I can attest to this fact because I used to drive past it when I worked there for a year. In addition to this, the hood parts of Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Orlando, the Tampa/St. Pete area and elsewhere, are basically like a warmer version of The Trap™. Harmony Korine is a genius for casting both Gucci Mane and James Franco as a St. Pete version of RiFF RaFF because their characters personify almost exactly, those two attributes of Florida. Less on the racial tip but more just like, Florida people be crazy kind of thing.
For every beach and perfect sunset and theme park, there’s very much the seedy, trashy side of Florida which are both perfectly captured in this film (also perfectly captured by this tour name and poster and entertaining Twitter account). The same state that birthed the careers of Britney, Christina, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, and the Backstreet Boys, also gave us Gilbert Arenas, Miami/Booty Bass, Trina, Trick Daddy, and Yo Majesty. This idea of Florida as Paradise Lost or just the concept of losing your innocence in general is illustrated even further in the casting of both Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez. Because like the MMC before them, even Disney Channel alums wild out on spring break.
Visually, and what I enjoyed the most, was the way the city of St. Pete was shot through the lens of Benoît Debie (Irreversible, Enter The Void). Florida loves bright colors and neon and there’s plenty of it in this movie from its title sequence, to glowing computer screens, and gas station parking lots. The cinematography is essential in setting the eery tone that Harmony Korine plays with throughout the entire film. I once joked that I would like to direct the rap version of Streets of Fire and have it set in Atlanta or Miami in the 90s instead and after seeing this, parts of it was basically that idea come to life. Minus the sledgehammer fight scene.
This movie will give you all kinds of feels both positive and negative. Like his other work, it has Korine’s signature of artfully pushing our buttons and making statements regarding pop culture through ridiculous and comedic ways. But really I am just glad that someone has finally managed to capture a snapshot of present-day Florida in all its crazy glory. This might not mean much to a person from Los Angeles or New York City cause like, ALL THE MOVIES ARE SHOT THERE, but to me I felt a slight sense of pride in seeing the Courtney Campbell Causeway with the sun setting on Tampa Bay in its backdrop on the big screen.