Harmony Korine’s latest is a wonderfully directed trip into debauchery, ignorance and insanity that has some biting social commentary to spare.
I haven’t seen any of Korine’s films, only heard about them, but for some reason I wasn’t quite prepared for the film’s tone. I was expecting something lighter and maybe a bit more fun, but I can now hear Korine fans laughing at me now through the internet. Not that the film doesn’t have moments of levity, “You can listen to Beyonce,” but it is mostly a dark, and often unsettling, look into youth culture and what they perceive as a great life.
Following a group of four girls who are just trying to escape their own existence by going on a crazy spring break we discover a pair of them have far more ambition. That ambition gets the four of them to St. Petersburg, but has also sparked something in the two that carries them through the end. The other two in the group aren’t entirely up for what this spring break has to offer and both react in their own way to the mayhem that unfolds. It’s when they meet a rapper/drug dealer named Alien that things really begins to spin out of control.
The first third or so of the film sticks with the girls and while it is full of sex, nudity, drinking and plenty of debauchery those behaviors never comes across as fun or sexy. In fact, the opening act of the film could be viewed as one long cautionary tale and admonishment of such activity. Watching these youths celebrate, we look at them like fools as they act like idiots; I wouldn’t be surprised if half of these people even knew they were in this movie. Korine even slips in some archival looking video footage to show that this is a running level of stupidity that has gone on for years. To put the icing on this commentary cake, all the girls are talking about how this way of life is the dream and that they never want to leave, they even want to invite their grandmas next year; it is all shaking your head worthy. He even sticks it to the church as one of the girls leads an exceptionally ignorant life and is being suffocated by her religion. The whole film is heightened, but I feel the most grounded moments might actually be the scenes early in the film; which is a terrifying prospect for the youth of our society. Hell, I could even see someone making the argument that this is a feminist film about female ambition in the workplace; there is a lot of potential crazy subtext to find in the picture.
From there the film smoothly evolves into a twisted satire on the crime genre and Korine finds plenty of tension and drama as the film rolls towards its conclusion. You somehow find a way to care about Alien and these girls and the long building turf war they get wrapped up in.
Korine’s direction is superb throughout and he gives the film a neon/black light filled look that is unlike any film I have ever seen. He excels at capturing the atmosphere of spring break in all of its perverted glory and it’s amazing that he can do so without glorifying the behavior. The other technical attributes of the film keep up with Korine’s direction, the score and soundtrack particularly shine, and the only thing that might be a bit off is the repetitive nature of some of the sound design. This simple story and absurd setting shouldn’t work, but Korine blends it into a trip worth taking.
The cast is also great with James Franco easily being the standout. His transformation into Alien is impressive and he was able to live up to some considerable hype built around the film. Beyond the physical transformation, we believe all the nonsense that comes out of his mouth and can buy the googly eyes these girls ultimately give him. Selena Gomez is also great and gets to show off quite the vulnerability and range as the naive Faith. Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson are quite the duo in this picture and the two act as the through line for the whole picture. They both are overwhelmingly convincing as two spring breakers taking things to the extreme and have fantastic chemistry with Franco. Rachel Korine is also quite the outgoing wild child here as her character, Cotty, seems to be over compensating as she goes crazier than anyone in the crew. She never holds back though and it is shocking some of the things her husband, the director, lets her do.
Spring Breakers is an original crime film told with expert direction. Korine and his team have put together a technical treat and his cast carries us through this insane story. Critical and unflinching, the film doesn’t glorify all this bad behavior and acts mostly as a critical panning of such activity. Still, Korine finds a story to tell and is able to suck you in as you will want to know how this whole turf war shakes out. Spring Breakers will offend many, maybe turn off even more, but those willing to go along with debauchery will find an entertaining ride.
Spring Breakers is an A-