Director : Harmony Korine
Screenplay : Harmony Korine
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2013
Stars : James Franco (Alien), Selena Gomez (Faith), Vanessa Hudgens (Candy), Ashley Benson (Brit), Rachel Korine (Cotty), Gucci Mane (Archie), Heather Morris (Bess), Ash Lendzion (Forest), Emma Holzer (Heather), Lee Irby (History Professor), Jeff Jarrett (Youth Pastor)
Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine’s latest attempt at art-house outrage, is an admittedly canny mix of exploitation sleaze and mainstream subversion. Packaged as a raucous teen bacchanal and released when most of the country is actually on Spring Break, Korine’s film, unlike his previous efforts, is designed to lure in an unsuspecting audience who, like his characters, are just looking for a good time, and then slap them upside the head. Those looking for skin, sun, and sin will find plenty of all three in Spring Breakers. But, they will also find healthy dollops of Korine’s artistic pretensions, unexpected violence, and what I can only take as finger-wagging, deconstructive social commentary about the dark side of our culture’s sexual and material obsessions. The subject of the film is the perversion of youth, and its greatest achievement (if one can call it that) is how it somehow manages to pander to a youth audience while also cinematically chiding them. It’s a confused endeavor, to say the least.
The story centers around four college girls—Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine)—who want to break away from the dim doldrums of their gray, generic university setting and cut loose on the sparkling Florida Gulf Coast during Spring Break. Lacking funds, they do what any group of desperate coeds would do: They rob a restaurant at gunpoint (in one of the film’s more pointed jabs at pop culture mindlessness, they tell themselves to pretend like they’re in a video game or a movie before pulling the heist). Faith, befitting her all-too-obvious name, is the good girl of the group, which Korine is incapable of depicting except via ludicrous scenes of her attending a hyped-up Christian prayer group and standing in front of a stained glass window. Why Faith would spend any time with the raucous (and apparently criminal) likes of Candy, Brit, and Cotty is a mystery, but then again, Spring Breakers isn’t the kind of film that trades heavily in logic or coherence. It’s all about the fever-dream effect.
The girls manage to make it to St. Petersburg—ground zero for Spring Breakers—where they join the throngs of twentysomething revelers who gyrate, strip, drink, sniff, and suck themselves into oblivion. Korine and French cinematographer Benoît Debie (who lensed the searing images in Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible and Enter the Void) capture the widescreen action with hypersaturated primary and fluorescent hues, as if the film itself has been baking in a sun-drenched vat of beer. There is something to be said for the intensity with which they depict the anything-goes debauchery of the Florida beach in March. Jagged editing and pulsating techno beats make the silicone-jiggling, six-pack-ab flouting hedonism more rattling than prurient, although it feels at times like Korine was having too good of a time capturing the action, seduced by the raunch on parade into thinking he was actually making a Girls Gone Wild video, rather than satirizing it.
The films’ wafer-thin plot doesn’t fully kick in until the girls are arrested at a hotel party and face the prospect of several days in county jail (for either titillation or humiliation, they actually stand in the courtroom in their bikinis). They are bailed out at the last minute by Alien, a self-styled gangsta with silver teeth, tattoos, and cornrows played with wicked, gonzo abandon by James Franco (here he truly is Oz the Great and Powerful, and the girls are no longer in Kansas). Alien takes the girls under his wing and brings them into his world of guns, money, and drugs, which Korine visually emphasizes the same way he emphasizes the debauchery on the beach: by repeatedly showing us the same images over and over and over again, thus ensuring that we make the connection between Spring Break revelry and hard-core criminality. It’s a fine line, so they say, and several of the girls cross over it quite easily, although whatever drama there might be is sapped by the fact that they had already proven their criminal chops long before setting foot on the beach. They aren’t so much corrupted as they merge their corruption with Alien’s (he refers to them as his soul mates, and after they force him to fellate two gun barrels simultaneously, he confesses that he just fell in love with them).
Since writing the screenplay for Larry Clark’s scandalous adolescent AIDS exposé Kids (1995) at age 22, Korine has carved a niche for himself in independent cinema with a series of gritty, grimy, would-be provocations about small-town perversity with titles like Gummo (1998), Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), and Trash Humpers (2009). Some see him as a subversive genius, while others see little more than a canny exploiter of the cinematic dark side. Spring Breakers feels more like the latter, especially in its use of former Disney Channel princesses Selena Gomez (The Wizards of Waverly Place) and Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical). (And if Korine thinks he’s doing something new and provocative here, remember that Roger Avary cast James Van Der Beek at the height of his Dawson’s Creek fame as a college sociopath in The Rules of Attraction back in 2002.) If there had been more substance to the film’s ideas about the waste and corruption of youth culture, its wanton excesses might have been more stirring and less grating, especially since they feel so much of a piece with the very subject that’s supposedly being critiqued. Of course, that could very well be Korine’s game—his idea of how to make everyone and no one happy—and in that regard the film can only be deemed a success.
Copyright ©2013 James Kendrick
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