2013, 94mins, 18
Director: Harmony Korine
Writer: Harmony Korine
Cast includes: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, James Franco, Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson
UK Release Date: 5th April 2013
I can’t really see many people leaving “Spring Breakers” having enjoyed it in any traditional sense of the word. The film is a stylised experiment in screen excess, stunt casting and shock value, director Harmony Korine fashioning a debauched tale with a curious art-house tweak. Mainstream audiences will be confounded by the picture’s unique tonality and seeming lack of plot, left to soak up some overpowering visuals and the mania of a niche film-maker off his leash. There’s a degree of interest to be accrued from the very existence of the piece, and at times its exploration of conscience and hedonism are perceptive, but there’s little pleasure in an experience which coasts so shamelessly on hollow storytelling, scrappy structure and obvious attempts to stir charmless controversy.
Bored of their repetitive college existence, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine), Brit (Ashley Benson) and religious Faith (Selena Gomez) plan to hit up the annual Spring Break festivities in Florida, only to later run afoul of insufficient funding. The three less morally directed members of the group decide to knock over a diner in order to gain the necessary monetary difference, the girls carrying out the job with ruthless precision and a penchant for meanness. Before long they’re on their way to party central, where booze, narcotics and the pleasures of the flesh allow for exhausting downtime. Eventually the law catches up with them, but to their rescue comes shady gangsta-type Alien (James Franco), a criminal who sees potential in this gaggle of uninhibited young women. Bringing the girls into his grotty underworld and wowing them with acts of selfish bloodshed and greed, Alien snares some of the gang displaying his distinctive definition of the American Dream. Faith on the other hand is less convinced.
“Spring Breakers” suggests several clever ideas and themes, but never successfully merges them into a satisfying motion picture. Watching Faith (portrayed astutely by standout Gomez) battle with her Christian beliefs in a bid to find herself is dramatically engaging, but Korine quickly forgoes this exploration of moral obligation in favour of focusing on the spiral of chaos triggered by Alien’s arrival. True, Franco’s turn is suitably insane, but once he stumbles into the frame “Spring Breakers” finds itself stuck at a narrative crossroads. Sadly for my money it takes the wrong turn. Faith is expelled (clearly a metaphor for the final shreds of conscience possessed by the leads), allowing an overt visual celebration of material gain by whatever means to dominate. It’s honestly hard to work out what Korine’s stance on the characters is, including Franco’s despicable Alien. He shepherds “Spring Breakers” down an avenue of gunfire and sex which gives the picture an undeniable visual whizz, but leaves it curiously short of point, purpose or impact. There are junctures where the feature appears close to saying something of worth, but too often these flourishes are drowned by the unfocused hand of the director and his obsession with tricky, experimental camera-work.
Characters are painted in shades, but that’s so obviously the point that I can’t criticise the film for it. The script is interested in exploring a generation’s state of mind more than it is in essaying any particular individuals, allowing the girl’s fascination with money and partying to take centre stage. “Spring Breakers” exists in some parallel world where people’s viewpoints and actions drastically alter between cuts, where consistency in character is an unnecessary luxury. Korine simply uses his sultry leads to try and convey sweeping commentary on today’s fascination with self-destruction and corruption of the soul in pursuit of fun. The snappy dialogue allows for some intermittent victory in this arena, but the lack of a firm stance come the film’s finish is distracting. Maybe it’s entirely for you to make up your own mind, but Korine’s refusal to assert himself leaves the picture feeling incomplete and empty.
It’s a brave picture in so much that no act of sexual suggestion, nudity, substance abuse or violence is too much, its superficial need to shock underlined via Korine’s use of Disney icons in core roles. “Spring Breakers” certainly pushes away from the mainstream technical rulebook, Korine plastering the picture with a distinct polish and perspective, splitting up timeframes and utilizing unsettling sound design to strong effect. “Spring Breakers” is very much its own entity (a key reason why it is likely to be rejected by those simply looking for trashy titillation), but it leaves no discernible taste in the mouth bar one of jarring confusion. I completely respect Korine for attempting something different here, but while his attempt to challenge multiplex culture looks the part, it comes depressingly lacking in substance. Maybe it’s punishment for the crowds lining up to bask in the glory of bikini-clad beauties or to see James Franco celebrate his straight-pimpin’ existence, a practical joke that ensures Korine and his ex-Disney beaus get the last laugh. Maybe. Or perhaps it’s just an addled mess with occasional touches of intrigue and dynamism. That’s for you to decide.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013