Thursday, 11 April 2013

Spring Breakers - Review

The opening few minutes sets the tone really; dubstep roars as beer floods over heads, writhing torsos, bared breasts and middle fingers that wag and taunt at the camera. This is “Spring Breakers”, a shocking pink tsunami of nihilism from director Harmony Korine that attempts to tackle a contested, deeply western topic; “YOLO” culture and the spray tanned pursuit of happiness through sex, drink, drugs and money. Its neon soaked portrait of debauchery is so excessive that it makes for queasy yet transfixing experience; not dissimilar to a horror film.

Former Disney teen queens Selena Gomez (as Faith) and Vanessa Hudgens (Candy), along with Ashley Benson (Brit) and Rachel Korine (Cotty),star as bored college students at a nondescript school smoking weed, hanging out, sometimes reading and even attending classes. Over a series of dreamy, elliptical scenes that slide from night to day and back, it emerges that the four friends want to escape for spring break but just don’t have the money. While Faith prays on her problems the other three opt for a more psychotic approach: armed with squirt guns and a lady-sized sledgehammer, they go full-on GTA and rob a local fast food restaurant.

From here the girls join an invading army of “Spring Breakers” that swarm every inch of sand, surf and hotel. This tanned, white-trash, white-teethed caricatures of American youth (think MTV’s “Jersey Shore” on mass) spill onto balconies and into pools, laughing and yelling as they drink, snort, dance, grind and thrash. They’re monstrous, enthralling and repellent; western sleaze personified.

A plot finally kicks in when Alien a hustler/rapper/whigga, played by an unrecognizable James Franco, takes an interest in the girls. Wearing grillz and long cornrows, Franco manages to make the character simultaneously cartoonish and stupid yet grounded. For the four girls he becomes something of a slimy Prince Charming, leading them further down the rabbit hole of nihilism and violence.

Unfortunately, for everything the film gets right it seems to get something wrong. Visually the film is often mesmerising with splashes of gorgeous, gaudy color and other interesting touches, like bright pink balaclavas decorated with unicorns, which give the film a unique sense of style and attitude. However the party scenes and constant barrage of crotch shots and bare breasts manage to just seem unappealing and sometimes laughable, but perhaps that’s the point.

Another interesting touch the surreal bends in the narrative and presentation, adding brief flash-forwards and flashbacks that make it seem as if the story were incessantly 
swaying back and forth. Gestures, lines of dialogue and emotional moments are repeated in a desolate, dream-like fashion. However, while sometimes used effectively, this effect often slows the film down to almost a snail’s pace, especially in the quieter less visually impressive moments, where the director seems far too interested in laborious montage than moving to the next plot point.

“Spring Breakers” looks different depending on how you hold it up to the light. From one angle it comes across as a vicious social commentary that jumps from one idea to another - the American dream, racial stereotypes and the search for one’s self- without properly stitching these ideas together. From another it is questionable that the film is even being critical or satirical, the lack of any clear point or moment of epiphany sometimes makes it seem as though Korine is actually just erotising and selling sleaze for commercial gain. Or perhaps his commentary just comes more from a place of morbid fascination than criticism.

Ultimately though, “Spring Breakers” is simply an interesting yet incredibly flawed movie; one that see-saws between stylish satire and awkward soft-core porn, art-house and commercial too often and too poorly to be taken as an entirely enjoyable whole.

Isaac Christian

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