A same-old male-ego-stroking romantic-wish-fulfillment fantasy becomes actually enraging when it adds a sci-fi-horror twist.
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
There are all the movies about regular schmoes who snag amazing gorgeous brilliant girlfriends because they so totally deserve amazing gorgeous brilliant girlfriends despite the fact that they are not amazing or gorgeous or brilliant themselves. Those movies tend to be really annoying for the stroking of male egos they represent, both onscreen and off, with their subtext of “Hey, you, out in the audience. You totally deserve a supermodel neurosurgeon girlfriend too!” And they’re annoying for how we never see the converse: the regular gal who totally deserves a billionaire genius playboy boyfriend. And for how the fact that these movies are not derided as wish-fulfillment romantic fantasies while infinitely more realistic romantic comedies get dismissed as ridiculous “chick flicks.”
There’s all those movies. And then there’s Spring.
I would love to be able to believe that Spring is a practical joke, filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead attempting to pull our collective leg by extrapolating the subgenre of male ego-stroking wish-fulfillment romantic fantasy to an extreme so ludicrous that we simply have to laugh at it. Unfortunately, I can see no evidence to support such a contention. Spring appears to be offered to us in all sincerity as a genuine romantic drama intended to surprise and move us.
And the more I consider this, the angrier it makes me.
Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci: Evil Dead, Fast Food Nation) is an American abroad in a small fishing village in Italy. It’s not a vacation: he’s running away from the cops back home after getting into a fight in a bar, and also from the grief of his mother’s recent death. Evan is from a small-minded place where other people are astonished to discover he has a passport, and look on this object with suspicion. We are informed that Evan dropped out of university to take care of his mother, which might be the most interesting thing about him (and it’s not that interesting). He has no discernible personality. He is of average physical attractiveness. He does not appear to be well read or well informed about much of anything. He isn’t funny or witty or clever. Without any irony at all, he calls himself “a bum.” The best that the movie can say with regards to Evan is that he is not the preposterous caricature of an obnoxious ignorant rapey frat-boy American (also visiting the village) whom the movie holds up by way of contrast. But that’s not really saying much for Evan. I mean, not being a rapist is a really low bar for male accomplishment and worthiness.
And then there’s Louise (Nadia Hilker). She is beautiful. She is brainy (she’s “studying evolutionary genetics”). She is poised and confident and worldly, having lived in many different places around the planet. She speaks so many languages that she has lost count. She talks about life and death and god and other deep things that are nearly one-sided conversations because he doesn’t have much to contribute. If this were all she was, it still would make no sense that she ends up with Evan. But this is not all she is: there’s a sci-fi-horror aspect to who she is that makes her even more incredible a person, and makes it even more unbelievable that she sees anything in Evan that makes him even slightly appealing to her.
The sci-fi-horror stuff (see my “spoiler alert” post if you want more details) is the only even remotely original thing about Spring, and it is truly inventive. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before. But that only makes this movie even more baffling. Louise is infinitely more fascinating than Evan, so why isn’t the movie about her? (There’s a lot of potential for truly unique adventures in her life story!) It’s as if Benson and Moorhead shot the first sketchy draft of Benson’s idea for a script, before they realized where the real story was. Unless the story Spring wants to tell is indeed the one that does nothing with all of Louise’s amazingness except to put it to the service of reassuring Evan that he is super super super special, as if that were in the least bit compelling. If Louise were just an ordinary extraordinary woman, this would have been yet one more regular-schmoe-snags-a-hot-girl fantasy, and it would have been just as dull and implausible as all the rest of them. But with the particular way that she’s so much further beyond ordinary than a fantasy movie girlfriend has ever been, Spring is absolutely enraging.
first viewed during the 58th BFI London Film Festival