Review: Harmony Korine's 'Spring Breakers' Oily, Vulgar & Satisfying
by Jeremy Kirk
March 21, 2013
"Bikinis and booties, that's what it's all about," says James Franco as Alien, the trashy, gold-toothed drug dealer antagonist of Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers. He forgot about boobs, beaches, bake-offs, and bullets, but Korine sure hasn't. Spring Breakers is ultra-grimy and plays to the indecency of its characters, right up the writer/director's alley. For the first time, though, Korine has crafted an exceptional story of a trashy carnival of sex and violence and even allows his directing chops to come out and play. Not only his best film, Spring Breakers is superb in every booty-shaking, sweat-dripping, bullet-flying way.
A fairy tale of sorts, the film centers on a group of four, female college friends; Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine), and Brit (Ashley Benson). Each of them are bored with their days of studying and only dreaming of the religious experience they expect a true Spring Break to be. Low on cash, the girls make a plan to steal a car, rob a restaurant, and get away clean to the dirty beaches of St. Petersburg, Florida where hedonistic day-after-day awaits. Their plan works, and the partying begins. But what starts out as the perfect paradise of drinks, drugs, and drama-free fun gets very real when cops intervene and Franco's Alien shows up offering them the chance to live "the American dream."
And to say Spring Breakers is Harmony Korine's commentary on this particular "Girls Gone Wild" version of the American dream is an understatement. Korine's work has always been divisive, mostly disgusting people with films like Gummo and Trash Humpers rather than pique their artistic interests. Spring Breakers, to the film's and Korine's credit, is very much a film by the filmmaker at hand. From the opening montage of half-naked (sometimes fully-naked) beachers screaming and dancing to Skrillex, Korine lets you know a level of taste in his work hasn't quite kicked in yet. Unlike his previous work, Spring Breakers feels more like the director making a statement rather than freak-watching. Maybe there's some of that, too.
The story at hand, though, builds around its characters and their own level of hedonism nicely. The four girls don't seem so different at first, all fine with the way their trip to Florida has been funded, even though only two of them actually go into the restaurant weapons in hand. The trajectory of certain elements to Korine's story are obvious. As the girls get deeper and deeper into Alien's world, they have different reactions to it. Some are all about the violent side of the party while others just want to go home at that point. There's little in the way of real suspense about any of it, but Korine all but makes up for that with his paused and deliberate pacing and a promise that things will go bad. Soon.
Korine handles the characters, story, and direction all in a pristine swoop. While the characters and story are bouncing down the hallway of self-destruction, the cinematic peaks and valleys the film takes become just as interesting. It's more than just the slow, melodic way Korine shoots the insanity at the heart of Spring Break. It's more than the creative ways he chooses to shoot the violence. That element to the film, though fully present, seems to take a back seat to the sex and vulgarity going on in the forefront. Korine feels like he's breathing as a film maker here, taking his time to establish presence and atmosphere with single shots. At times he shows off, turning a drug trip scene into a mosaic of smoke and skin. It's never obtrusive, though, and even though he likes holding on a subject when other directors might pull away, Korine's work in Spring Breakers proves a maturing state has been reached in his career.
All of the female performers are solid in the film with Rachel Korine (the writer/director's real life wife) really stepping up her game. Cotty is the character who goes through the most change over the course of the film, and you understand by the end the trust the director had in her to deliver. Gomez handles the sweetness of Faith well, and Hudgens and Benson play around on the sadistic side for much of their screen time. Korine, on the other hand, shows a great range and never falters moving from one side to the other.
Franco, needless to say, is flawless. Only a few weeks ago, I was telling you how charming and comedic he was in Oz: The Great and Powerful, and now he's giving us something on a completely different level. He loves showing those gold-plated teeth, and every time he makes Alien grin, a chill enters the room that wasn't there before. Much like the individual girls, it's easy to lock onto what Alien is all about and how he's going to react once the shit really hits the fan. That doesn't make watching Franco uninteresting. Quite the contrary, and the actor blazes the screen with both comedic and serious turns. His "Look at my shit" monologue is a thing of beauty.
Hyper-lewd is a good phrase to describe Spring Breakers, a film with few likable characters that almost jarringly pulls away from the ones of higher moralistic beliefs. Harmony Korine has made a career out of showing us such characters, but Spring Breakers feels like the first time the writer/director has something to say. He says it with a well-placed bullet, turning this Badlands or Natural Born Killers for the Gen Next crowd into a coarse but stylized trip to the violent side of the beach. Some can handle it. Others can't. Thankfully, Harmony Korine only seems interested in those who can. Spring Breakers and its oily, vulgar, and absolutely satisfying ways is proof of that.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10