director Harmony Korine
“Act like you’re in a movie or something.”
Spring Breakers, writer/director Harmony Korine’s most commercial film to date seemed on the outside to be a real opportunity for subversiveness. His last feature film was Trash Humpers (2009) in which the title was not at all metaphorical. It featured a group of young people in old-people masks, humping trash, gibbering and other weirdnesses. For this film, Korine landed two former Disney teen stars, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, as bikini-clad party animal girls turned hedonistic thugs. They star alongside Korine’s wife Rachel and Ashley Benson in a film meant to show them as good at being bad. They take drugs, have sex and kill people in an anarchic orgy of pretense and violence.
The film also features James Franco with a gold grill on his teeth and cornrows in his hair as a white gangsta who pays the girls’ bail when they get arrested then takes him to his shady underside of the sunshine state.
The thing is, as a straight exploitation film, this could have worked perhaps. Maybe Paul Schrader or or Paul Verhoeven should have taken the reins. For Korine, it’s actually a lot less wacky of a mishmash than his normal oeuvre. T&A hardbodies throb in slow motion to a mixture of music, like scenes from any number of hip-hop videos showing the modern beach party as made for video. The girls, while largely amoral, have in Selena Gomez’s Faith, one more standard goody-two-shoes who doesn’t participate in the worst crimes and bails when things get weird. In some ways, her moral compass sets a tone for the others.
As some have noted before, the girls aren’t really given unique personalities, especially outside of Gomez’s prayer group. We don’t really know who they are, what they stand for, what they signify. So as they work their way through their wild oats, each caving to a return to normality by the end, it’s not utterly clear what it all means, really. Maybe it all means nothing, that all things depicted right or wrong are simply surface effects of a group of truly amoral humanity.
The thing that the movie really has going for it is the cinematography by Benoît Debie (who also shot Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible (2002) and his hypnotic Enter the Void (2009)) with neons and both garish and gorgeous, seems to offer aspect of commentary beyond the script. The scene when the girls rob the restaurant before their road trip, shot from outside, through the window of the El Camino as it slowly circles the building, is fantastic. The film toys with icon-making. Again, maybe that is in the intent, as well.
Frankly, it’s not as “out there” as it could be. This may sound gauche but none of the principals appear naked (except maybe Ms. Korine), though the film is edited in such a way as to imply sex and nudity. It would have been much more far out to really drag his actresses through the mud he suggests. This film, which seems to have a meta commentary in its casting, is ultimately a rather tepid mess, not a hot one.