6 April 2013

Review: Spring Breakers

(Dir: Harmony Korine, 2012)

This was an experiment I was really keen to see. Take the guy who wrote Larry Clarke’s Kids, who’s known as an off-beat indie director famous for the likes of the trailer trash weird Gummo, and figure out how the hell he gets two ex-Disney tween stars, one whose star is definitely still riding high and whose last acting role was the more wholesome Monte Carlo, to star in his new film about taking spring break much too far? This is the director whose last “feature” was Trash Humpers for fuck’s sake. However he did it, kudos to Harmony Korine for making Spring Breakers work because he totally pulls it off.

Four girls are bored at college – Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are all on the wilder side, whilst Faith (Selena Gomez) is the religious, sensible seeming one – it’s spring break and they’re desperate to escape so do what they have to to head to Florida and join the masses partying it up. But not everything is perfect in the sunshine state as they’re forced into the debt of Alien (James Franco) from where things take a much darker turn.

First and foremost Spring Breakers looks fantastic. Korine is typically associated with a grainy, raw, visual aesthetic, something which has totally suited his work before, but we get a melding of different styles here, from handheld to the slicker. This fits the almost hallucinogenic nature of the story, showing everything descending into madness amidst the glow of neon. The camera is always moving, showing scenes from unusual angles and giving us little details, sometimes in an almost uncomfortably voyeuristic way. Many scenes feel like snippets, an expression of mood, a fleeting shot, all without being overly scripted. It's almost like Terrence Malick gone wild, and yes, I just compared Spring Breakers to the work of Malick! It’s worlds away from the oppressive delirium of the VHS shot Trash Humpers, yet still feels like we’re watching the same director at work.

Franco redeems himself for his recent less than satisfactory role in Oz the Great and Powerful (review here) by fully embracing the character of Alien. Dreaded up, grill in and tattooed everywhere, he convinces as a trying-too-hard-to-be-gangsta gangster, whilst at times oozes creepiness. His verbosity means he has most of the dialogue including the quality and already legendary “look at all my shit” speech. The girls are more freeform and seem to work as a unit, at times being indistinguishable, but the friendship here seems believable. Faith has more personality and Gomez plays her well with the innocence of grateful escapism from the things tying her down in the real world. The others, particularly Brit and Candy, may lack the innocence but equally crave the escape, however they also experience power, both through violence and exploiting their own sexuality, which seems to intoxicate them far more than the drink and drugs.

Spring Breakers would’ve been a less interesting film if it wasn’t Korine’s baby - his visual skills and the creative editing make all the difference. Yes the multitude of scenes showing the typical hedonistically hollow spring break bullshit wear thin quickly, but whenever the girls or Alien are on screen the film is truly alive. The casting works with Franco on top of his game, whilst Gomez, Hudgens and Benson should be applauded for being brave with their careers, especially in a film more concerned with feel and experience than convention. Amidst all this the score from Cliff Martinez and Skrillex helps set the mood perfectly. Spring Breakers isn’t a film for everyone, I can see it frustrating some and pissing off others. Yes it’s excessive but isn’t that the point? At least there are ideas in there beneath the breasts, bikinis and neon coated façade. But more importantly, it shows why Korine should work more regularly with a bigger production budget and have access to better equipment.

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