Real Cancun

July 10th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress

What would you do if you were an 18-year-old American finishing high school and a film crew offered you a free holiday to the Mexican resort town Cancun for your spring break (the American equivalent of schoolies week at Rotto or the Gold Coast). Especially if you’re not so sure of yourself, a confirmed non-drinker and definitely no great shakes with the ladies?

If you’re Alan Taylor, who ends up being the ‘hero’ of the new reality-TV style film Real Cancun, you end up sinking beer and shots with everyone else, winning the hottest body competition and making (largely ignored) demands for boobies.

And the first question you really want to ask this guy is whether it was intrusive having a camera crew follow you around on such a teenage rite of passage?

"Definitely," Alan says on the phone from his whirlwind publicity trip in Melbourne. "The first couple of days I was completely annoyed with the camera crew, but after that you get so fed up you just ignore them."

Maybe that explains the gradual loss of inhibitions, but surely the temptation was there to ham it up a little, knowing you were going to be on film?

"There was no acting," Alan insists, "at least not on my part. With the camera around, I became more reserved and kind of wanted to get away from it. Then when I just got fed up with it I did whatever I’d normally do."

But an hour and a half of unrelated concerts, wet T-shirt contests and drinking would be a bit boring — surely the filmmakers planned things just a little bit?

"They weren’t allowed to talk to us or look at us," Alan says, promising otherwise, "We were told to presume they weren’t there and pretend they were invisible. It wasn’t until after the movie wrapped that we could ask them what they thought."

But, asked about the on-set personnel, does Alan trip up? He says there was ‘a camera guy, a light guy, a microphone guy and a bunch of writers, producers and directors.’ (Anyone else spot it? Why would a ‘real’ production need writers?).

Then, asked whether a silver screen career beckons, he plays down stardom but slips again; "Right now I’m trying to finish college, doing college theatre as well," Alan says, "If a role comes along I might take it." So, he’s an amateur actor… anyone else feel a conspiracy theory developing?

Real Cancun itself is like the American military — something they should never have let outside America. The balmy spot is a stone’s throw from both Florida and Cuba on Mexico’s East Coast; once unspoiled, now completely spoiled thanks to the relentless juggernaut of American tourism.

A ‘reality’ movie following a troupe of teenagers on spring break is the concept we had to have. The result of a long casting process from 10,000 down to 16 is a media-friendly cross section of American youth ranging from the vacuous to the exceedingly vacuous; most of them not very interesting, all of them appropriately photogenic and completely self absorbed.

We see them laugh, cry (almost), seethe with jealousy and lust, drink, scream at parties and concerts, root, swim and frolic a lot. They also talk a lot, hesitatingly trying to express themselves with inane discourse making too much use of the word ‘like’ (as in "You know, it’s like’" and "I was, like’").

If Real Cancun surprises you in any way, it’s by making you remember how crucial it was at that age to spend a holiday getting romantically involved (or just laid) instead of simply having a good time. Remember when so many ridiculous things seemed so life and death before you even understood the concept of mortgages, bills, work or bringing up children?

If you’re that age yourself, it’s hard to say what you’ll get out of it. Presumably if you’re drawn to it, it’s for the same reason hundreds of millions of your peers are drawn to Big Brother.

But then, we’re all drawn in to some extent; nothing makes us feel better about ourselves that laughing at other people’s stupid delusions of importance. If there’s hissyfits, cool music and bare tits involved, all the better.

But not believing at least some of it was set up (or at least encouraged) by the filmmakers is a big ask, despite what Alan Taylor says on his publicity tour. Not even American high school graduates are so dumb they don’t know we’re taking the piss out of them — witness Casey striking one of his vacant model poses for the interviewer, or Laura catching Matt shagging some skank in the shower. At its simplest, Real Cancun entertains because there’s plenty about these kids to laugh at.

Some call the ‘reality’ entertainment phenomenon exploitation. If so, what better location for it?

While you watch the boozing, partying and flashing by the 21st century princes and princesses of America, you don’t have to think too hard to spare a thought for the exploding poverty in Mexico (up over 50% since they introduced NAFTA in 1994) on which American economic prosperity rests.

You can see those lucky enough to have tourism industry jobs for a few dollars an hour (like the Mariachi band sprung on the kids by the tour organisers or the bartenders serving them tequila shots for breakfast) smile and denigrate themselves gratefully for the rich Americans.

So is Real Cancun exploitation? Of course, but so is the real Cancun.

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