Spring Breakers Review

spring-breakers-everytime
RATING:
(3.5 STARS)

Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is perhaps the ultimate test (or, less hyperbolically, the ultimate test this year) of seeing the forest for the trees. Is Korine—an infamous boundary pusher whose first film was about an HIV-positive man deliberately infecting young women—saying something profound about our youth and culture with this would-be exploitation flick? Or is it—with all its women, drinking, and drugs—simply 90 minutes of scantily-clad nonsense? The answer, of course, lies somewhere in the middle, but it definitely leans heavily in the direction of the former. This is a deceptively bleak, gorgeously styled, and, ultimately, powerfully resonant picture.

Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine), and Faith (Selena Gomez) are best friends and bored college students. They want nothing more than to pack their bags for a scandalous spring break trip in Florida—even the religious Faith—but they’re having a bit of a cash flow problem. Their solution? Masks on, guns loaded, they knock off a chicken shack.

Faith, it should be noted, doesn’t partake in the robbery, but she’s more than happy to reap the rewards of her friends’ crimes. The four hop on the bus and, eventually, hit the beach for the absolute time of their lives. It’s only after they get arrested (a minor drug bust) that they come crashing back down to Earth. The uber-sketchy rapper Alien (James Franco) bails them out and begins teaching them his way of life.

The film—or rather your reaction to it—undergoes an almost startling transformation over its 90 minutes. What begins as a thin intellectual exercise crystallizes into something meaningful before flipping on its head completely and becoming a rather harrowing emotional experience. It’s clear from the start that Korine is either onto something or a total perv. And not long after you (finally) become certain it’s the former, you actually start to feel something for these decidedly repulsive individuals. At least I did. More than anything else I’ve seen this year, Spring Breakers is the kind of film in which wildly varying interpretations seem par for the course. I’m buying what Korine is selling, but I’m not exactly turning that admiration into unqualified recommendations for anyone and everyone.

Why such qualifications? Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find some of the scene-setting gratuitous. When an ass in a bikini that’s jiggling in slow motion fills 80% of the frame, and that image repeats itself in one way or another at least 30 times over the course of a film, one can’t help but feel a little wrong for watching—and worse, enjoying.

The film is also rather plotless. Once our quartet of ladies hooks up with Alien, any sort of narrative momentum comes to a stop. Fans of Terrence Malick will appreciate a number of Korine’s touches, which, it must be noted, are uniquely his own—just reminiscent of something you’d see in The Tree of Life or To the Wonder. The women twirl and twirl as a series of semi-pretentious voice-overs breathlessly long for emotional bliss. The difference between Spring Breakers and these other films, then, is that the four ladies, bathed in a neon pink Florida sunset, twirl while wearing ski masks and carrying shotguns. And their breathless voice-overs aren’t so concerned about matters of the heart, but rather the length of their “amazing,” “magical” vacation.

Performance-wise, none of the women exactly stands out, though none falls on her face either. Gomez probably gives the best performance of the bunch, but it’s possible hers stands apart because Faith is such an entity among the group. The others are appropriately emotionless throughout much of the film, but their tough visages are consistently believable.

James Franco, meanwhile, steals the film out of everyone’s—even Korine’s—hands. He’s quietly having a brilliant year. He was the best thing about Oz: The Great and Powerful. He played himself to great comedic effect in This Is the End. And here, he’s the a criminal like we haven’t seen on film in a long time. The alias of Alien seems apropos as he’s a real anomaly—both very little like the thugs he typically associates himself with and, surprisingly, the only one among his new crew with human tendencies.

There’s an interpretation of this film that involves the most atypical of family dynamics, and it’s something I responded to very strongly. Alien is, alongside the titular character in Frances Ha, the film year’s most interesting character so far. As the film ticks on, it seems the hunter becomes the hunted, and his hardened exterior melts to reveal someone who’s oddly needy. The ladies, meanwhile, seem like fish out of water at first, but that’s definitely not the case by the film’s end. These relationships—between Alien and the girls, and among the group of girls itself—are sort of reversely symbiotic. Every one of our main characters relies on the others to grow and change and “prosper,” but their collective idea of prospering is twisted, and that’s ultimately what Korine is getting at with this deceptively insightful film. Superficially, Spring Breakers is abhorrent and silly. Beneath the surface is one of 2013’s best movies.

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2 Responses to Spring Breakers Review

  1. John Gilpatrick July 13, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks, Dan! It’s a movie I found myself appreciating more as I reflected on it. In the moment, there are some rough patches and grating dialogue. Still, a ton to chew on.

    Reply
  2. Dan O. July 12, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Good review John. The movie started to get old and a bit of a bore after awhile, however, once Franco shows up and steals every scene he’s in, the movie gets a whole lot more entertaining and interesting right from then on there.

    Reply

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