The Double Feature: Piranha and Spring Breakdown
Hollywood’s infatuation with the college-sanctioned week long vacation of debauchery that is spring break continued with the release of Spring Breakers in March, but before you head to the theaters to see former Disney stars prove they’re adults now, allow me to propose an alternative spring break double bill full of sex, blood and fully dressed adult women enjoying a make your own pizza evening.
Don’t worry, at least one of our movies will have nudity; I understand this is a necessary component of spring break films and spring break in general. That’s why we’re starting out with the 2010 update of the 1978 classic Piranha, a movie so unabashedly ridiculous that not loving it is almost impossible. However, I’m also a fan of balance, so after we’ve indulged in the gory, naked fun times of Piranha, we’ll turn to 2009’s Spring Breakdown for some slightly more down-to-earth spring break shenanigans.
Piranha was a genuine hit when it was released in 2010, and for good reason: it’s fun. It’s schlocky horror done right, with an abundance of creative death scenes and bemused actors clearly having the time of their lives. Even Richard Dreyfuss shows up to nod at the legacy of that other great “don’t go into the water!” film, Jaws.
The movie isn’t exactly plot-heavy, but the general premise is that it’s spring break and college kids descend on Lake Victoria, Texas just in time for an earthquake to release a school of blood-thirsty piranhas. Steven R. McQueen is on hand to play the lovelorn teenager who defies his sheriff mother’s (Elisabeth Shue) order to stay home and watch his little siblings in favor of chasing after his crush and helping Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell playing one of the most annoying characters ever committed to film) film a pornographic movie.
Meanwhile, the rest of the town is engaged in an endless bloodbath as co-eds and townspeople alike fall prey to the piranhas. Luckily, they have Shue, Ving Rhames and Adam Scott in their corner. The trio turn themselves into piranha killing machines– in fact Rhames’ character is such a colossal badass that he uses a motorboat propeller to slaughter piranhas even as they’re devouring him.
Piranha is pure madness. A chaotic, blood-soaked vacation gone wrong film that makes a good case for bad movies.
Spring Breakdown is downright wholesome in comparison to Piranha. The direct-to-DVD movie stars Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch and Parker Posey as a trio of adult friends whose lives haven’t turned out the way they wanted them to. Branded as losers in college, they each assumed they would outgrow the moniker, but it’s not until one of them is tasked with trailing her boss’s daughter on spring break that the women begin to take control of their lives. Of course, the road to enlightenment is paved with foam parties, questionable clothing choices and lots and lots of alcohol. Could we expect anything less from a spring break yarn?
Given the amount of talent involved in Spring Breakdown, it should be a much better movie than it is, but even with the spectre of missed opportunity hovering over the proceedings it’s still a hilarious, often smart comedy about friendship and self perception. It twists the traditional spring break tropes to produce a much sharper story than the genre usually offers up. Here the “girls gone wild” are middle-aged and in the midst of various midlife crises. Even the younger generation– played by the woefully underused trio Amber Tamblyn, Mae Whitman and Sarah Hagan –are every bit as uncertain and geeky as their older counterparts. The result is that rare spring break film that’s about women instead of about objectifying them, which is a feat worth celebrating in and of itself.
I don’t know about you, but after I indulge in a movie as fast-paced and crazy as Piranha, I like to follow it up with a bit of a palate cleanser. After all of the gore, nudity and piranhas-leaping-out-of-the water shocks, it’s nice to decompress with a movie like Spring Breakdown, which is just as silly, but in an entirely different way. They’re the yin and yang of spring break movies.
However, for the TV fans among us, there’s another reason to watch and that’s to see Parks and Recreation lovebirds Poehler and Scott both indulging in spring break antics. Somewhere out there in the wild world of the internet an industrious fan has surely written the fanfic where Scott’s snarky seismologist Novak meet-cutes with Poehler’s unlucky in love guide dog trainer Gayle during the most calamitous spring break in recorded history, right?
What do you think of this month’s spring break-themed double feature? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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