Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Spring Breakers (2013, Harmony Korine)

As a gang of four college girls desperately escape their monotonous existences and head for the Mecca of Spring Break, each in turn over the course of their pilgrimage awaken from the idealised dream of Florida as nirvana and once again long for the normality from whence they came. These epiphanies come at key moments where the fun-time antics - always delicately balanced on the brink of explosive violence and sexual depravity - finally give way to the perverse undertow that lays dormant. The detachment in these young pretty protagonists are revealed in poignant moments such as in the build up to their robbing of a restaurant to first gain funds for their trip; Vanessa Hudgens' Candy gears up the doubtful Faith (Selena Gomez) in telling her to imagine the events as if they were inside a video game. A similar analogy is used when they steal a car for the getaway.

Upon arrival in Florida the film does a great job in exposing the sexual aggression in almost everything present in this culture's iconography, something alluded to and repeated later from the film's bold opening montage. Obscene amounts of alcohol are consumed through phallic instruments by barely clothed women while circles of men gaze on. At one point marijuana is lit from an apparatus designed as a baby foetus. All this surrounded and committed by barely adult females wearing hello kitty backpacks, the central group unwinding between parties by watching Disney films on their laptops and reciting the pop songs of Britney Spears. The film captures, albeit a heightened and concentrated example, of a subculture in action. The results are so evocative, so absurd, and yet often hilarious before nosediving into the disturbed, I don't believe anyone since David Lynch and his Blue Velvet has managed to dismantle the American Dream to quite this degree.

It's in the fateful meeting of the girls and a local pseudo-gangtster named Alien (played expertly by James Franco) that sets the course on to even shadier territory. The girls are besotted by Alien, a creature part Gary Oldman's Drexl from True Romance, part Mark 'Chopper' Read. Of course, the girl's are infatuated by Alien as a figure more than a man, he is the embodiment of the American Dream or rather the tragic striving for it at all cost. He is the ultimate figure of this culture, completely absorbed and in love with the hedonistic haven on display. This is evident most prominently in a standout scene involving Alien gleefully shouting about how much stuff he owns, bandying possessions all around as if it's supposed to impress. "Look at all my shit", he proclaims as we look on humorously in amazement, in disbelief.

There is a point somewhere in the final stretch where the film becomes drawn out, almost tired; not due to the repetitive, strikingly explicit images throughout, but rather that the film's trajectory starts to incorporate something that resembles a plot. Korine's cinema has always been one of a state of mind; take the devastated New Orleans town of Gummo or the snapshot of schizophrenia in the Dogma 95 induced Julien Donkey Boy. These works eavesdrop on settings and characters both naturalistic and yet far removed from reality as we know it, keeping life's most fragmented and disastrous impulses at the forefront. Though this slump certainly gels with the loss of spirit these girls have in 'the dream' at this point, even during a climatic shootout in which revenge is taken on Alien's ex-partner, the feeling that hangs over the action is that it's time to go home.

The casting is superb here with modern Disney icons Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in particular, their presence seamlessly conveying the overarching themes and the juxtaposition of images both innocent and then corrupt. Their barely repentant phone calls to parents at the end reveals the girls further warped mentalities and added detachment from their actions, giving the feeling that perhaps these girls are one semester away from boredom where they could return to 'paradise' once again.   James Franco undoubtably steals the show as Alien, the dream incarnate. Franco's talents as a performer are becoming more apparent than they ever were as he continues to destroy his public image and invest in smaller productions, reinventing himself through and through. There are segments here that belong amongst the most stirring examples I've ever witnessed in a film and among many others I doubt its sunset-lit rendition of Britney Spears' 'Everytime' will ever leave me. Franco's Alien explains his name by professing that he's from another planet, during every second of Spring Breakers you'll feel like you've stepped into another world, too.

Spring Breakers certainly delivers all the evocative and stylistic components we're used to from Korine and in a classical melding of style and content he delivers his most strikingly vivid offering to date, an acidic piece of zeitgeist to shock and challenge the senses. It's remarkable due to the amount of nudity on display how little gratuity is felt here, how the naked flesh captured in slow-motion and set to a soundtrack of Skrillex does little to objectify the subjects. Never before has the images of beach-bronzed bodies felt so shockingly violent. The visible (and rare) budget for the director also helps create, arguably, the most fully realised of his films in an example of money aiding an artist's vision rather than diluting it. It both epitomises and transcends the work of one of America's most challenging artists. 

1 comment:

  1. You make some good points, Joseph, but this film failed to entertain me on a number of levels. The core quartet of girls were just unlikeable, plain and simple, which wouldn't be a problem had any of them been in any way sympathetic.... save Gomez' character, the rest of them were all bitches. Made it tough to enjoy the film from their perspective. James Franco was excellent but Korine's story was too unfocussed to allow him to generate much empathy other than what those metal teeth allowed... LOL!!

    Overall, I found Spring Breakers rather tedious, almost monotonous in its refusal to offer anything other than hedonism with zero repercussions. Nice review, though!