"This is really degrading to women...really."
In October of 2002, Cameron Diaz hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live that featured one of my favorite sketches ever: a parody of MTV's Spring Break in which drunk students repeatedly requested Shania Twain's "That Don't Impress Me Much" as a baffled Amy Poehler (playing host Molly Sims) watched in disbelief. The dancing by Diaz and Maya Rudolph still cracks me up, and I laughed more in those few minutes than I did in the feature-length Spring Breakdown--a movie that's been sitting on the shelf since 2006 and is finally being released direct to video.
This will be a painful review for me, because I'm a diehard fan of Parker Posey and Poehler--and Rachel Dratch (who also stars and wrote the story) is responsible for some hysterical moments on SNL. The three can do no wrong in my book, and when you throw in Jane Lynch and Amber Tamblyn, the film looks like a can't-miss proposition (at least on paper). How can a movie with such a great cast be so awful? I can forgive the clichés--we all know where the story is going, but who says we still can't have fun getting there? Apparently writer/director Ryan Shiraki, whose lifeless screenplay and direction manages to choke almost all the charm out of its talented cast.
We first meet the three best friends as outcasts in college, where they ache for an escape years of rejection and taunts by the cool kids. We then jump ahead 15 years, where the women are still just as sad and lonely in life and love. Becky (Posey) is now an assistant to gun-toting Senator Hartmann (Jane Lynch). The environmentally conscious office manager wants to break into politics, but her mousy demeanor doesn't do her any favors--and an unhealthy attachment to her soon-dead cat Honey drives her further into depression.
Gayle (Poehler) busies herself running a school for dogs, which she prefers to men after getting rejected by a blind customer (played by real-life husband Will Arnett). Meanwhile, Judi (Dratch) is engaged to the clearly gay William (SNL's Seth Meyers), a gag that isn't funny from the start.
I expect more from Dratch and Myers, especially considering we've seen both of them mine the exact same material in SNL's "Girl with No Gaydar" sketches. And while I also love Meyers, he gets a little lazy with his gay accent--and William's propensity for shortening words when he speaks is another failed joke that overstays its welcome (including lines like "Leave me alone! You're giving me a nervy break-d!" and "Let's have the wed...and then after, we'll have a really nice life...togeth.").
The women get a second chance at being cool when Becky is assigned to keep an eye on the senator's daughter Ashley (Tamblyn). The lonely nerd in the Medieval Club heads to spring break to try and win back her ex-boyfriend Doug (Jonathan Sadowski), who is now more interested in blond bimbos. If Becky can keep Ashley out of trouble, the senator will avoid the public scrutiny that would prevent her from being named the new vice president (a vacancy now open after a sex scandal rocks the White House).
Once the gang settles into South Padre, Becky pretends to be a grad student to win Ashley's trust--but soon finds that keeping the co-ed out of trouble may be harder than she thinks, especially with the Girls Gone Bonkers camera crew lurking on the beach. Gayle is soon drunk with alcohol and power after she befriends mean girl clique "The Sevens" (because there are seven of them, and because they wear 7 For All Mankind jeans), led by blond bitch Mason (Australian singer/model Sophie Monk, whose awful accent helps make this the film's worst performance by far).
Judi, tormented by the realization that her fiancé is a homo, also hits the bottle--and develops an unhealthy infatuation with an Abercrombie & Fitch meathead (hunky Justin Hartley of Smallville) that barely knows she exists.
Friendships are tested along the way, leading to a final showdown at the all-girl talent show, where the women finally learn that being yourself is what's important--and dumbing yourself down for male validation is so not cool. Yes, you've seen all of this before--not only in several SNL skits (remember "Woo! The Musical"?), but in a wide array of films far better than this: Revenge of the Nerds, Mean Girls, Legally Blond, The House Bunny, Bring It On and--perhaps most obviously Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, which Spring Breakdown copies a lot (the silly performance to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" has been changed to the silly performance to Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors").
Almost none of it works: Spring Breakdown is a snoozer that doesn't try very hard to make you laugh, something painfully obvious in the bookend scenes. Yes, the two talent show performances are supposed to be bad, but it's amazing how lazy they are. No one in front of or behind the camera is trying to do anything unique or different, instead playing the musical numbers mostly straight and just singing. It's like watching a boring karaoke performance by someone that isn't terrible enough to make you pay attention. You'll yawn instead of laugh (or better yet, stare in horror).
Since the script isn't doing the film any favors, the least we could hope for was a train wreck of vulgarity--but Spring Breakdown doesn't take any chances, playing it safely in the middle (I'm still scratching my head about the R rating).
I'm stunned that so many great actors and comedians were unable to save this. Most shocking is how ineffective Posey is; she is given nothing funny to do or say, turning in perhaps her most forgettable performance ever (which isn't really her fault). Becky isn't allowed to get nearly as wild as her friends, and the film squanders an opportunity to let Posey unleash her magic (instead, she's reduced to saying lines like, "We're human beings, we're not tacos!").
Dratch is the least successful--her skills (like intentionally contorting her face into unflattering expressions) are better suited to sketch comedy, and she is noticeably out of her league in feature form. Lynch goes full force, but her character is so similar to so many of her other roles (even Role Models, which was filmed afterward but released earlier) that her skill is mostly wasted. (You're better off watching her hysterical Healthy Choice commercial with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a far better use of her talents--and our time.) Tamblyn doesn't even register on camera; like Posey, she's given nothing of substance (ugh, did I just hear her say "Gettin' jiggy!"?)
Only Poehler manages a few laughs ("We're gonna get date raped in there," she says upon seeing their hotel, the misleadingly named 4 Seasones), but too many of her lines rely on the ghetto-speak schtick she used throughout her SNL run ("Oh girl, don't hate!"; "True, dat!"; "I told you we shoulda' done 'Momma Said Knock You Out'!"). It's one of her trademarks, but the mannerisms are only funny if used sparingly--not relied on as a primary character trait (even Becky yells "Stop talking like that!" to her at one point).
Shockingly, the bigger names are all upstaged by the talented Missi Pyle, doing her best Britney Spears impression as aged party girl Charlene ("Let's get Coyote Ugly, y'all!"). Pyle is far more effective with her minimal screen time, and the brief scene where she becomes enamored with a tree was one of the few funny spots in the movie's short but oh-so-long 79 minutes. (Pyle deserves much bigger and better vehicles than she has so far received.)
It doesn't say much that the tagline on the DVD sleeve ("Payback's a Beach!") is one of the best things about the film. I also laughed at some shots of the adorable pooches in Gayle's class, and the final standoff between Judi and her A&F hunk is mildly amusing. (And I love The Veronicas, who have a few songs here.)
But most of the film is a bore. The dialogue and jokes are lame, lacking any wit, intelligence, venom or conviction. Is this really the best they can do:
Oh, sing it sister! Wow, this is as extreme as it gets?! The film also throws a few pointless digs at minorities, who aren't allowed to speak (a dance troupe of camouflage-clad Vietnamese women call themselves "Hoochie Men"). And I don't consider appearances by Bruce Villanch and Laguna Beach's Kristin Cavallari (as "Seven #3") to be good things.
- Mason, making fun of Ashley: "It's like putting lipstick on a turd...pure nasty!"
- Becky, about William: "Sweetie, he's as gay as a goose!"
- Senator Hartmann: "I'm spotless. I already deported the maid, and my husband's impotent!"
- Ashley: "I am going to prove to Douglas that inside this fair maiden lies the heart of a wanton trollop!"
- Judi: "You're damn right it's a walk of shame, cause I just got me some, beotch!"
- Mason: "Everyone knows you can't spell 'talent' without T and A!"
- Gayle: "Men are just dogs with thumbs."
- Judi: "You know what safe sex is? Dating men who are gay!"
It's all too tragic for me to take, and I need some cheering up. I would like to request Miss Shania Twain's "That Don't Impress me Much"!
The anamorphic image appears to be 1.85:1, and it's a fairly strong presentation. Although the film comes direct to video, it had aspirations of getting a theatrical release--and for the most part looks technically strong. Outside of some grain and occasional mild darkness, lines and colors are generally solid.
The 5.1 track (available in English and French) is also strong, although the rear speakers don't get quite as much attention as they could. Dialogue and sounds are crisp and distinct. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Leading the way is an equally disappointing audio commentary with writer/director Ryan Shiraki and writer/actress Rachel Dratch. It's a laid-back, meandering track that goes in random directions, sharing a few interesting factoids along the way. The two sometimes sound like they're on SNL's "Delicious Dish"--they don't muster much enthusiasm for the film or the audio track ("Oh, these are good. We like the flashbacks, right?" asks Shiraki before Dratch finally chimes in with a dejected "...sure.").
While I'm sure both of them are fun to be around, their rapport and sense of humor don't translate very well to an audio track. They continually joke about how all of the D.C.-, Virginia- and Texas-set scenes were filmed in Los Angeles (yawn!); equally unfunny is how the two sarcastically point out telegraphed plot points ("Uh oh...something's gonna happen!") and explain the obvious, as if they're making fun of their own film; it's like they've forgotten they're recoding a commentary and just start amusing themselves. (While I might behave that way with friends, it gets really, really annoying here; I could barely stand it near the end of the film...)
Dratch also has a lot of trouble remembering things; she also hasn't seen a lot of movies (another fact that comes up repeatedly). "They told us to keep talking," she says in her defense, with her friend offering this advice: "If we run out of things to say, you can always just talk about the movies you haven't seen."
The two just don't seem to care that much and show little passion for the project, so why should we? Even worse, they waste plenty opportunities to give us something meaningful (of Missi Pyle, all we get is Shiraki saying: "Oh, there's Missi Pyle...she's funny." That's it?!). "There are a lot of subtexts in the film, a lot of character arcs," says Shiraki before he starts laughing. "I'm sorry...I'm trying to suggest that this is like The Hours." (Don't get me started on the never-ending references to The Hours). The two wonder aloud at the end if anyone is even listening anymore: "Anyone who has stuck with us this long, we are sorry...thank you for listening to our tedium."
Equally disappointing are four additional scenes (2:54) that don't add anything, and a short gag reel (2:03) that should be a lot funnier and longer than it is. Trailers round out the package.
How can a movie with the likes of Parker Posey, Amy Poehler and a talented supporting cast be this bad?! They can do no wrong in my book, but Spring Breakdown is about as wrong as it can get, an inexcusably uninspired mess. The writing chokes the cast of its charm, and the clichéd story--which plays like a bunch of overlong SNL skits stitched together--can't hold a candle to the long list of movies it copies. The lifeless script plays it far too safe and doesn't take any chances, meandering aimlessly in the middle. Even for the most ardent Posey and Poehler fanatics, this one asks a lot. It pains me to say it, but Skip It.