Spring Breakers


Reviewed by: Neil Mitchell

Spring Breakers
"While there is much to admire about Spring Breakers in terms of visual aesthetic and directorial style, those aspects are undermined by a run of the mill narrative not nearly as subversive as it appears to want to be."

The intriguing, and sometimes brilliant, career of writer-director Harmony Korine continues with his latest self penned, left-field excursion, Spring Breakers. Since the then 19-year-old announced himself by writing the screenplay for Larry Clark's searing drama, Kids (1995), Korine has delivered one polarising film after another in the shape of Gummo (1997), Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), Mister Lonely (2007) and Trash Humpers (2009).

Still an outsider in terms of widespread audience acceptance and critical attention, Korine has once again directed a film set to wow as many as it repels or frustrates. Subversion, confrontation, an askew worldview and beauty found amid ugly situations have always been central elements in Korine's oeuvre, and Spring Breakers, which has 'good girls gone bad' as its provocative tag-line, arrives on a wave of advertising imagery as loaded as the guns its young bikini-clad protagonists brandish. Whether Korine's take on the cultural life of contemporary American teens is entirely successful or not is, however, debatable. For while there is much to admire about Spring Breakers in terms of visual aesthetic and directorial style, those aspects are undermined by a run of the mill narrative not nearly as subversive as it appears to want to be.

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With a cast headed by genuine Hollywood A-lister James Franco, alongside one-time Disney princess Vanessa Hudgens, all-American girls Selina Gomez and Ashley Benson and Korine's wife Rachel, Spring Breakers gleefully flips expectations of the character types normally associated with its performers.

Korine's tale revolves around four longtime friends - Faith (Gomez), Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson) and Cotty (Korine) - and their determination to escape from the everyday boredom of college dorm life and embrace the hedonistic abandon promised by a spring break imagined and rendered in mythic, reverential terms. This woozy, hazy genre crossing odyssey becomes as much a psychological as experiential coming-of-age trip, as the girls' transgressions from 'normal' life escalate far beyond mere adolescent partying and into the realms of adult crime. The arrival of Franco's hilariously repulsive gangsta figure, Alien, into the girls' lives acts as a turning point in their adventure and, unfortunately, in the movie's eventual narrative weakening.

Korine signals his visual/stylistic approach to representing the beach-noir milieu in which the story unfolds early on, as the girls' egg each other on to think of the holiday-from-reality as being nothing more than a videogame. In this respect, Spring Breakers is an undoubted success. The alternately sun-drenched and neon-lit world of hungry, lusty full throttle excess presented feels like an unholy, amalgamation of the environments of Grand Theft Auto and Ibiza Uncovered.

Korine heightens a pervading sense of unreality, with flash-forwards, flash-backs and repeated lines of dialogue heard in voice-over before being uttered onscreen. The themes introduced - addressing religious faith, emotional succour, moral upbringing and spiritual corruption - are easy to spot but are less impressively handled. If Korine is satirising a generation, flooding the screen as he does with with bare flesh, alcohol and drug-fuelled antics and bling-obsessed secondary characters, I fear it may be lost on or of no interest to the age group that is surely its target audience.

For older generations it's a culture of vacuity that was already skewered to memorable effect by Chris Cunningham's video for Aphex Twin's Windowlicker all the way back in 1999. If the preponderance for lingering, slow-motion shots of wiggling backsides is meant to provoke or offend, again it is surely a doomed effort. Younger male viewers will, largely, uncritically lap them up and older viewers of both genders should be wise enough to not rise to Korine's bait.

One thing that cannot be taken away from Spring Breakers or Korine is that the movie is superbly constructed and directed. From its Tarantinoesque robbery of a fast food outlet, via the swooping camerawork that explores the girls' first holiday party to a climax as drenched in metaphor as it is in day-glo colours, Spring Breakers is as stylish a piece of film-making as you're likely to see all year. The gang war sub-plot woven into the movie's fabric, though, feels trite, dull and predictable, only there as to provide Korine a framework to wrap up a narrative journey where the thematic issues touched upon fail to be as fully interrogated as they are strikingly represented.

Reviewed on: 01 Apr 2013
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Spring Breakers packshot
Four college students form an unlikely allegiance with a drug dealer.
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Read more Spring Breakers reviews:

David Graham ****1/2
Anne-Katrin Titze *

Director: Harmony Korine

Writer: Harmony Korine

Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Heather Morris, James Franco, Rachel Korine

Year: 2012

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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