Q.V. Hough

Ambitious and Flawed: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s ‘Spring’

spring-movie

The word “trullo” once meant little to me a few years ago, but that all changed when I found myself living in one during the Spring of 2012. Much like the subject of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Spring, I left California for Rome and temporarily settled along the Adriatic Sea in Puglia, a region of Italy known for its native “trulli” homes. While I didn’t lose my mother like the protagonist of Spring, I did my lose my job, which also serves as the guiding factor for Lou Taylor Pucci’s Evan to book a ticket overseas and begin his Italian journey. It was the tagline of Spring that caught my attention (“a young man in a personal tailspin flees the US to Italy”), but it was a momentary lapse of reason (beautiful Puglia) that nearly allowed me to forget about the obvious flaws of the film.

With the opening shot of Evan’s dying mother, Spring conveys its horror influence. Surprisingly, the color tone and framing of Aaron Moorhead’s cinematography reveal something more than the usual genre imagery. After his mother’s passing, Evan hits the bar to slam a couple frosties with a heavily bearded bro and proceeds to beat up an intimidating figure wearing an actual grill (!). For the first 10 to 15 minutes of Spring, I was all in, but the bar room beating threw me off given the friends’ matter-of-fact attitude. The best friend Tommy doesn’t seem concerned about consequences, and neither does Evan when his victim follows them home. Are these guys that hard? And what are the filmmakers trying to project? Spring actually makes complete sense if viewed as Evan’s projection of himself.

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Evan Wakes Up

Conceptually, I love the idea of someone leaving everything behind for a fresh perspective. Evan arrives in Rome, and we see the obligatory walking shot near the Colosseum. Further adding to the American abroad clichés, Evan meets a couple of boisterous hostel patrons; the kind of guys that only talk about weed and good times. In this regard, Spring mirrors Eli Roth’s Hostel, and the inevitable horror that American travelers will undoubtedly meet if they leave the country (snicker). Throughout the entire film, Benson and Moorhead sprinkle a touch of genre clichés but give Evan enough self-awareness to seemingly transcend the troubling dialogue. But in typical horror fashion, Spring becomes littered with f-bombs and dialogue that could be heard at any late-night Hollywood party (I’ve been to a few). The banter between Evan and Louise (Nadia Hilker) doesn’t reflect reality; it reflects someone writing a Hollywood movie, and it’s a crucial aspect when separating the good, the bad and the ugly.

As someone familiar with Southern Italy, I had a difficult time identifying the landscape of Evan’s coastal ride with the hostel bros. In one particular road-trip shot, Mount Vesuvius seems to appear in the distance, which I found confusing when the crew didn’t seem to arrive in Napoli. Regardless, the visuals are beautiful, and the sense of misdirection actually highlighted Evan’s own naïveté, at least for me.

Adding to the “projection” theory, Evan ultimately connects with the first woman he puts eyes on in Puglia. For a guy still grieving from his mother’s death the week before, Evan conveys an impressive aura of self-confidence. In fact, he manages to score a date with the mysterious Louise, even after he bluntly asks if she’s a prostitute. This guy has it like that? Self-projection? Furthermore, Evan’s traveling buddies split town, and he manages to immediately secure a job with an Italian farmer. Not only did the farmer remind of my WWOOF experience in Ceglie Messapica (Puglia), but the farmer, Angelo (Francesco Carnelutti), carries himself exactly like an elderly farmer I met. As you might imagine, I was hoping to find more in Spring. It’s possible that my own self-projections blinded me from hidden gems, but the flimsy narrative is tough to ignore.

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New Job/New Friend

Without giving too much away, the second half of Spring reveals a few shockers, all of which are shrugged off by either Evan or Louise. Critics have been throwing around comparisons to Before Sunrise, which is both frustrating and somewhat ridiculous. To be fair, Pucci and Hilker give respectable performances, but they’re no Jesse and Céline. In Linklater’s film, the dialogue conveys real people/real emotions, whereas Evan and Nadia are half-baked characters with severe problems. At a certain point, and you’ll know when, the dialogue takes a dramatic turn; it’s almost as if Benson decided to use every pre-production joke centered around a most obvious plot point. The Evan-Nadia romance is bearable during the middle act but ultimately becomes obnoxious. I’ll say this: Nadia has been around, and the dialogue hammers away at her remarkable, personal history. If only the filmmakers could have spent more time on plot and less time on throwaway jokes.

The lovers of Spring ultimately arrive in Naples, but the final reveal fails to capture the essence of star-crossed lovers. While the tone and logic provide for numerous head-scratching moments, the overall ambition, visuals and lead performances are impressive. Benson and Moorhead clearly have something to offer, and a film like Spring probably deserves a second viewing despite many obvious flaws.

Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is a freelance writer and founder of Vague Visages. He previously lived in Hollywood, California from 2006 to 2012 and now resides in Fargo, North Dakota.

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