Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review: Spring Breakers (2013) 

Director: Harmony Korine
Writer: Harmony Korine
Stars: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson

The latest film from the warped psyche of Harmony Korine is a miscalculated, directionless romp and I have no idea of the demographic he is pitching it to. The late, great Roger Ebert was fond of saying, "A film is not what it's about, but how it's about it." What that means is that a film is not inherently bad because it contains a rape scene. The film is judged on how it incorporates the rape scene and why it includes it. Now, Spring Breakers does not contain a rape scene, but it could almost be seen as advocating rape culture. I did not like what this film was about, and I only cared a little bit about the way it was about it. 

So, what is Spring Breakers about, exactly? The short answer is "not much at all." However, in my duty as a reviewer, I must give you some idea of what you're getting into here. Four American college students—Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), and Cotty (the director's wife, Rachel Korine)—are longing to break free from the shackles of college life and indulge in the excesses of a spring break vacation in Florida. They don't have enough money for the trip, so they rob a fast food store with hammers and water pistols. The film soon transitions to scenes of vacuous gratuity, whereby scantily-clad (or often topless) young women are grinding up against men, who use their bodies as platforms for snorting cocaine. The girls are finally at the party they've been fantasising about. Now, I'm not at all conservative in my views of nudity in film. What I do object to is nudity that does not complement the story and is simply there to provide some eye candy. Consider movies like Eyes Wide Shut and Y Tu Mamá También where the nudity feels absolutely necessary and lends the film electrifying eroticism. Now, contrast that with the nudity in Spring Breakers, which feels like it was stolen from a Girls Gone Wild video. If I just wanted to see a barrage of tits, I have an internet connection and I'm old enough to know where to look for them. 

I digress. The wild partying leads to the arrest and imprisonment of the four girls. It isn't too long until a rapping, drug-dealing hustler comes along to bail the girls out. His name is Alien and he is played by James Franco in the only notable performance in the film. Alien sports cornrows and gold grills, and prides himself on how much "shit" he owns in his flashy pad. His guns are his toys, and he seems to have one objective in life: have fun. When Alien begins to lure the four girls into his dangerous underworld, the modest and Christian Faith decides to leave. I bet Korine thought he was a genius for naming the Christian girl 'Faith'. Ha ha ha. So coincidental, right!? 

That's all I'll describe of the plot. Now, we need to talk about the characters. The four girls feel like carbon copies of one another. I did not identify with them in the slightest, and I admittedly did not care for their plight into recklessness. They felt like objects simply there to be gawked upon by horny men. For the most part, they seemed to be enjoying it, and since Korine wrote the film, that means he made them accept it all. Now, I am no party animal, but that does not mean I cannot empathise with party animals in film. Here's a little factoid: Superbad is my fourth favourite film of all time. That film is not terribly realistic, but compared to Spring Breakers, it's like cinéma vérité. In Superbad, we were given characters to sympathise with, and director Greg Mottola injected everything with a sweet poignancy. As mentioned before, the performance by Franco is impressive, and he is naturally funny here. There were several times in my screening where the mere presence of Franco was enough to elicit laughter. Now, this isn't a testament to Korine as a filmmaker. All that means is that Franco really inhabited his role and generated great screen presence.

Now, let's talk about Harmony Korine. He has now directed five feature films. I have seen two others besides Spring Breakers. Those films are Gummo and Trash Humpers. Both films sickened me, earning two stars respectively. That is also the rating I am giving Spring Breakers, although I think I enjoyed the other two films more. Yes, they are more gritty and vile, but at least they made me curious about Korine's artistic choices. For example, why the FUCK is there a scene in Gummo where a kid eats a lunch of spaghetti and milk while sitting in filthy bathwater? More to the point...why the fuck is there a rasher of bacon stuck to the wall!? Trash Humpers is a horrifying film that is exactly about what its title hints at. At least it manages to be somewhat thought-provoking. 

At least Gummo looks like it could work as a twisted contemporary art piece.

Korine has said that he made Spring Breakers as a way of recapturing his misspent youth. As a teenager, he spent most of his time skating while others were drinking, taking drugs, and having sex on spring break. What I interpret from this is that the film is simply one big fantasy for Korine. He made this film because he didn't get laid enough while in college. Consider that his wife plays one of the girls, and the idea of a fantasy holds even more credence. Consider that Gomez and Hudgens made names for themselves as Disney Channel starlets, and this fantasy becomes almost fetishistic.  

In my critiques of Korine's other work, I have stressed that he can write very competent dialogue, and that he just needs to become a better director. With Spring Breakers, I felt the opposite way. Korine's control over the stylistic choices really impressed me here, especially in the final act. Some scenes are choreographed very well, in particular a scene where Alien serenades the girls with a piano rendition of Britney Spears' Everytime. Only Korine would use that song in a climactic scene, but y'know what? It actually works and is rather beautiful, especially as it is contrasted with scenes of violence and destruction. I also enjoyed the simmering electronic score by Skrillex and Cliff Martinez, which was very reminiscent of Nicolas Winding Refn's brilliant Drive (also scored by Martinez). Add to that the hypnotic, neon-shadowed cinematography, and it makes you lament what could have been if the story had more substance to it. 

Was this supposed to be a satire? I see it as a rejection of the MTV mythology and Jersey Shore ethos, whereby partying is seen to be the epitome of existence and people prance around with hollow minds all in the name of fun. It's not so much about the girls losing their innocence, but rather their getting more than they bargained for. They wanted a wild spring break, and they got one. They wanted it to "last forever," and that hyperbolic remark may have come to fruition in a frightening, unexpected way. 

Korine on the set of Spring Breakers, looking suspiciously comfortable. 

I still feel as though Korine is capable of way more. If he can strike a perfect balance between writing and direction, I may one day finally enjoy one of his films. He needs to stop being a provocateur. People go to the movies for reasons other than to be shocked. Korine has been labelled a genius by many people who know more about film than I do, but I personally think he's a one-trick pony. If he is capable of genius, it comes merely by accident. He injects elements into his films that are meaningless to everyone except himself. There's a scene in Trash Humpers where a child repeatedly strikes a doll with a hammer, devilishly cackling in the process before saying, "I told you I'd kill it!" What does that mean to anyone except Korine? Yes, we are meant to develop our own interpretations as viewers, but I think you've got to draw the line somewhere. Korine is like that friend of yours who says "Something amazing happened to me last night," but then won't go any further because "it's a secret." He is a magician who doesn't reveal his craft—not because it's a remarkable trick, but because it's embarrassingly simplistic and achievable. 

With a rating of R18+ in Australia, the people who will be most curious about Spring Breakers (free-spirited adolescents) will not be allowed to see it in theatres. Lucky them! There's a scene in Spring Breakers where Faith is relaxing in the pool of a hotel with her friends. She says she wishes she could freeze time and stay in a moment where everything is perfect. I too shared this sentiment. When the film was over, I wished I could have frozen time before I bought my ticket to the movie. Things were much nicer back then.

2/5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. While definitely not for everyone, I still think that everyone should see this film since it's actually kind of important, especially for teens that are a bit above the usual Spring Break-idea of partying and living. Good review Steve.