“Spring Breakers” is the best film Harmony Korine has ever made, but that’s not really a compliment. Up until now Korine’s films have been nothing more than self-indulgent and overly self-conscious tripe. However, with his first feature film since “Trash Humpers” in 2009, he seems to be a changed man. Is that for better? Moderately, yes. His ability to create impressive imagery remains, but the over indulgence has been replaced with a keener eye for the mainstream.
Korine’s latest film is an orgy of excess. A world of intoxicating hedonism, that only acts as a disguise for the nihilism and gradual self destruction that’s going on underneath. Given his past problems with drugs and alcohol, perhaps Korine is actually being more self-conscious than initially thought. Perhaps his life became one massive spring break; spiralling to destruction and thinking you’re enjoying the prime of life. The four girls at the heart of “Spring Breakers” are of that exact frame of mind. They want to go to Florida for spring break so they can escape from all the monotony in their lives. When the girls sit around and talk about their boredom with real life, it’s vaguely reminiscent of the “Choose” monologue at the beginning of Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting.”
The girls decide they need to go to spring break for the sake of their spirits. Only problem is, they don’t have any money. They discover a quick, easy, and exhilarating fix to their problem – rob a restaurant. They take their money and head straight for Florida, where they find more “spirituality” than they thought they would. They go to parties where people get drunk, take cocaine, smoke pot through makeshift bongs made out of dolls, and women constantly parade themselves topless.
As you’d expect, reality soon fights back, and the police arrive at one of the parties. The girls are arrested and spend the night in the cells, before they go before a judge the next day. They’re informed that someone, unbeknown to them, has paid for their bail. When they leave court, they meet their saviour – at least that’s what he is now – Alien (James Franco). He’s a drug dealer, arms dealer, and part time rapper. His entire life is one long spring break. He embraces the chaos of the world around him, either because he’s part of it, or because he knows it will probably destroy him before he has a chance to get bored. To the girls, he’s like an inspirational speaker.
That is except for Faith (Selena Gomez). She’s instantly suspicious of Alien, who tries to show them a good time. She tells Alien of her suspicions, and James Franco easily slips into creepy manipulator mode. In this insane world of total fantasy, Faith is the only person we come across who seems genuine. All she wants is to get away from bible study for a few weeks and get drunk in the sun. Getting arrested and hanging around with a dread-locked lunatic wasn’t what she had in mind. She’s almost a representation of the audience, if it weren’t for the fact most of us would have ran away from this sunny circle of hell after ten minutes.
But that of course isn’t really the point. If the aim is to create satire or some form of social commentary, then realism has no place here. Harmony Korine doesn’t really permit real life a chance to get in. The courtroom scene, when the four girls appear before the judge still only wearing the bikinis from the day before is proof of that. Korine’s love of arresting visuals and unique soundtracks come together when Alien plays a Britney Spears song on his white piano, while the girls dance around him, wearing pink balaclavas and swinging automatic handguns over their heads. Yes, their still wearing bikinis.
Korine’s visual style often comes to save many of the movie’s scenes. The script is rather painfully written, with dialogue that is too on the nose. Not that it really matters. “Spring Breakers” is a film that allows you to talk to the people next to you and quickly check Facebook without missing anything. Perfect for young movie goers then. Often the actors are encouraged to ad lib, which is something a skilled actor like James Franco, who seems to enjoy taking risks with his work, no doubt enjoyed.
And yet, despite the interesting visuals and pumping dubstep soundtrack (which occasionally becomes irritating), things do become surprisingly dull at times. Still, “Spring Breakers” invites you down to the very depths of wasted youth, where only debauchery and chaos are allowed. It gets so painfully close to becoming the next big teen cult movie, but fails to clear the bar. That’s what makes it so irritating. Despite all the gloss, all the booze, all the drugs, all the guns, and all the bare breasts, it has a hollow core. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it either. The problem was I felt nothing, and therefore didn’t care about what was happening on screen. While it is an intoxicating and immersive experience, it fails to be the effective social commentary it desires to be.
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