Harmony Korine's latest film, Spring Breakers, is not a typical moviegoing experience. Where Spring Breakers lacks in great characters, save for James Franco's Alien, and interesting plot, it makes up in social commentary and stylized directing. What Korine is saying, or possibly trying to say, is the focus more than what the plot is. I won't remember what some of the struggles and decisions the four girls faced, but what those decisions represent in a larger construct I will.
by Alex Misiti
Harmony Korine is back again with another film about wild and crazy kids. Spring Breakers (2013) stars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine as four college students (I can't remember their names) who want nothing more in the world than to go to south Florida for spring break. Gomez and Hudgens are only here because of their Disney star power. Along the way, they meet a rap artist named Alien who helps in finding themselves in the Sunshine State.
I don't think Korine intended to make an all out satire. He holds back a little that can make Spring Breakers feel like it glamorizes the characters. The balance between satire and glamorization is important. Every single character is somewhere between unlikeable and detestable. You do not cheer for any of them. However, Korine does not paint them as complete villains where you wish for their demise. Is this a failure in writing or a choice by Korine? I say choice. Like Alien, Korine could have painted all characters in a super stylized, over the top manner. But I find Korine's refrain from doing so strengthens his point.
Spring Breakers is, at times, an indictment of the completely carefree, lack of acceptance of responsibility, and the party always mentality that is held by some young adults. The four girls want to get as wild and crazy as they can in a socially acceptable way. Spring break is their opportunity. It could have been Mardi Gras or Halloween. To achieve this desired fantasy the girls steal a car, commit armed (sort of) robbery, all sorts of debauchery, and eventually get arrested. They meet rapper, gangster, and all around lunatic, Alien, because of their arrest. Where these girls had used crime to get to the party, being with Alien made crime just as much of the party. Alien represents a life of no responsibility and making decisions on whatever he wants at that particular time.
More than anything, Spring Breakers seems to be a type of warning to people like Faith (Selena Gomez). How far are you willing to go to live a fantasy? And also, is the fantasy worth it or even satisfying? The other girls had no remorse for their robbery. It was a means to their fantasy vacation end. By not rooting or hating for Faith it shows that people like her are not all good or bad. The twenty-something partier is not terrible, but can be. The other girls are just a couple steps ahead of where Faith is. They stay in St. Petersburg a little longer and do a little more. And Alien is even farther ahead. He is a lifetime of selfish decisions with little regard of the rest of society.
The social commentary aspects are endlessly fascinating for me. While it isn't the sole reason, it is the main reason Spring Breakers is "good".
The film is not without faults though. The unsatisfying ending muddles up whether Spring Breakers is satire or glamorization. Actually, it is probably a bit of both. It appears it was marketed to the people the film criticized. Even though it wasn't a question anybody was asking, we now know Gucci Mane can't act. And Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens are better, but are up and down to say the least.
James Franco was the exact opposite of up and down. His performance was an absolute tour de force. Without him the film is borderline watchable. Social commentary and wonderful directing style can only go so far. Good characters or good story are a must.
Besides Franco's performance and any social commentary that can be taken away, Spring Breakers other star is writer/director Harmony Korine. Spring Breakers is wonderfully directed. The handful of times where the film meanders, specifically in the first act before Alien shows up, are bearable because of the directing. The film is full of neon, dub step, and music video-esque shots that all work perfectly when used even though I generally dislike all of those things. But it also has an art house quality in moments of quiet.
Even though this is supposed to be the slow part of the year for movies, this year it seems the choices are worse than usual. Along with Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects, Spring Breakers is the exception to the rule that there are no quality movies in spring. It is enjoyable, but more importantly, thought provoking.
Since walking out of the theater Spring Breakers has been on my mind. I will remember Spring Breakers because of it's unique style and questions it asked, or at least got me asking.
Korine is best known for writing Kids (1995) and Spring Breakers’ subject matter tries to be similar to that film. The problem with Spring Breakers is that while it has some strong themes, its lack of characters development and a well-rounded plot keep me from carrying about anything on screen. From the moment these characters are introduced to the last shot of the film, I learned nothing about the four girls other than that they are slutty and want to party. Never do they change, which I’m fine with in a film, but at least give me something to care about. This is the problem. If I don’t care about your characters, why should I care about your message?
There are two films that are obvious comparisons to Spring Breakers. There is Kids and Bully (2001). Both films where directed by Larry Clark, while only Kids was written by Korine. Kids is about a reckless teenage boy who goes around New York for a day and tries to deflower as many girls as he can. Little does he know, he has AIDS. One of his victims finds out she too has the disease and sets out to stop him. The whole film is set amongst teenagers who have no discipline and do nothing but have sex, take drugs, and party. Bully, based on a true story, is about a similar group of teenagers who are brutally bullied by their friend. The teenagers get fed up and decide to hatch a plot to murder the bully. While all three films are about young people with no control, Spring Breakers is different in that we don't care about any of its characters. In Kids, we care about this girl with HIV. In Bully, we care about the victimized friends, then take a 180 and care for the bully. Spring Breakers has nothing to care for. For example, in one of the opening scenes, Hudgens and Benson discuss their craving for male genitalia. This is one of many similar scenes and these are the characters we are stuck with for 90 minutes.
Ok, so the characters are dull and there is nothing to care for. Maybe there is something else worthwhile here? Sadly, there isn’t. The film has a distinctive neon look, but never did it draw me in because this it was pasted over dull and endless partying scenes. It has good music, but the film is so boring, it doesn’t make a difference. Never do I understand why these girls want to party so much. Korine makes spring break look so boring. In an uncountable number of partying shots, these teens are destroying hotel rooms, snorting cocaine off each other, and binge drinking. All of this is put against the sound of Skrillex. Never does this look fun. In Kids, where drawn into the partying by the interesting conversations between the teens and the likable characters. Not the destruction of hotel rooms.
One of the praises I’ve heard is for Franco’s performance as Alien, a corn row wearing redneck. He’s a rap artist by day and a drug dealer by night. This could have been a great opportunity to play a really memorable character, but to no surprise, Franco never delivers. He just drones on and on about it being spring break and waves a bunch of guns around like an imbecile. He never shows us what the girls see in him. Alien is neither likable nor cool. You’ll probably just laugh at what comes out of his mouth.
By the end of the film, Gomez and Korine’s characters have gotten out of town. We’re left with Franco, Hudgens and Benson, who are all supposedly in love. Korine does nothing to create this love, but whatever. The three of them decide to storm a revival drug dealer’s mansion and kill everyone. How did these girls go from college students to cold blooded killers? At this point, it doesn’t even matter. In a half-baked ending, Franco is killed and Hudgens and Benson murder 20 or so guys, with maybe 10 rounds each, wearing nothing but bikinis. They then drive off into the night. What is the hell is this!? I suffer through 90 minutes of one dimensional characters and their uninteresting lives and I get this? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.
I walked out of the theatre angry--and I work there so it wasn't about money. It was that I wasted my time with this film and was supposed to buy into Korine’s message. Sorry Mr. Korine, Spring Breakers is no Kids or Bully. This movie didn’t make me think once and if I wanted to see a bunch of neon lights and hear some Skrillex, I’d watch MTV for 10 minutes. I see what Korine was setting out to do, but Spring Breakers failed on so many levels to tell its message.