Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Love: Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine has been around, sure.  It's old lore, at this point, that he wrote the script to the particularly eye-opening Kids when he was still a teenager. Since, he's been a presence in the land of the difficult indie.  I've long admired Korine's relative freakiness in the film community, his commitment to keeping things within the realm of the weird, the unpleasant, the artsy side of the distasteful. Until this point, though, I've never really loved Harmony Korine.  His films are ordeals, things you go through, rites of passage, and perhaps Spring Breakers is just that as well.  The difference, though, is that this time the film stock is electrifying and alive, burned up in glowing fluorescent colors and awash in a drug-addled haze of bitter, brutal, rainbow-glitter sex and violence.  This is the sickest part of Tumblr come alive, the apex of drug-culture hipsterdom metamorphosed into a grimy, brutal, merciless vision of a hellbent American Dream.
I love a thick coat of stylistically applied grime on any film with criminal intentions, and Spring Breakers offers up a level of color saturated loathsomeness that gives Tony Scott's spastic Domino a run for its methed-up money.  Korine has gifted us a piece of grade-A trash auteurism that commits to its highly stylized, fuck-up-your-evening without compromise.  Spring Breakers is pure id.  The plot is thin, and the film devotes itself to music video style cross-cuts and extended montage more often than not, but the characters stand out from their surroundings regardless. They force us to look at them, to see them and dare ourselves to hate them, to find them reprehensible as they live out every dark impulse we've ever spoken in moments of hyperbole. The film's only moral compass is the aptly named Faith (Selena Gomez), a church-going, baby-faced girl who defends her childhood friends from claims that they may be touched by the devil.  Regardless of her Christian leanings, Faith doesn't seem terribly fazed when she learns that Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine), and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) held up a chicken stand with squirt guns to pull in the extra hundreds necessary to get them to Florida for spring break.  Gomez, Hudgens, and Benson (to an extent, as she's on ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars) are all ex or current Disney girls, and middle finger lifts aside, you've gotta give them credit for the serious balls it must have taken to step up and go for the depravity depicted in this film.  All three of them just opened up an indie cinema door straight out of typecasting and into the cult hive mind. If they're lucky, a few years down the line they could work that into the clout of Chloe Sevigny. 

Disney tangent aside, in Florida, we learn about the girls in cyclical scenes. Korine uses repeated voice-over narration: phone calls to grandma from the girls talking about how special this place is, how much fun they're having, and how many friends they're making that loop over crowded, frenzied party sequences so crammed with drugs, booze, naked bodies, and carnality that Caligula would look on enviously.  They want to stay forever, to leave school and live in this other world. It's a filth odyssey, but enviably shot and matched to the Skrillex score (see? he's good for something...) to absolute perfection.  Before long, lesser sins begin to pool and the girls fall in with a grill-mouthed underground rapper and crime impresario who calls himself Alien (James Franco) because, of course, he's not of this world.  As Alien, Franco kills it. He single-handedly resuscitates his career so that his Oscar fumblings and god-awful short stories seem nothing but distant memories. While the girls work as raunch-goddess nymphets, Franco allows the film to step back from their postured porn shtick and regain its dark, disturbing sense of humor.  He's as magnetically vile as they are, but likable in a way that frames their future actions, that allows for a heightening of the already absurd context that reminds you, from time to time, that yes, this is a form of satire.
If Godard was right, and all a film needs is a girl and a gun, then it follows that when you have a trio of sun-tanned co-eds in neon tiger-print bathing suits wielding black market automatics... you may have stumbled upon exactly what we all secretly want from our entertainment.  Spring Breakers is seedy, loathsome, and without remorse. It gets worse and never better, and it has no interest in moralizing its actions on screen.  While it seems tough to say that Harmony Korine is some sort of covert moralist, the film functions in a way that is very much like a low-down, trashed-up, South Beach Bret Easton Ellis novel.  This is pure style, yes, a delirium the likes of which I haven't seen executed to quite this effect before. While Korine commits in full to his unlikable, dangerously unhinged characters, it could be argued that he forces you to evaluate what they're emulating. You have to look at the behavior, to actively participate in the most vile of conversations and activities while understanding, implicitly, that these characters are something other, that they are our own creations built off of video games, pop music, sun-baked photo spreads, and the consumption of mindless distraction after mindless distraction until we reach critical mass.  Interesting too that in a packed theater of real-life spring breakers, the bulk of the crowd seemed to be having none of it.



6 comments:

  1. HUH! I was expecting a good rating because I saw it today and liked it! And I was scared that I was losing my mind or something. :D

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    1. I totally loved it, so we may both be losing our minds!

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  2. Spring Break Secret Beach 4 ever.

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    1. The secret beach is a terrible place during spring break. I'd imagine it's quite soggy...

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  3. Love this review.

    First off, "The film functions in a way that is very much like a low-down, trashed-up, South Beach Bret Easton Ellis novel..." YES. I thought something very similar when I first saw it, and that, to me, is a damn fine thing.

    Also, in regards to your kicker, that is interesting, isn't it? Maybe some prefer to not look in the mirror so harshly...?

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, the varied responses I've been hearing (from revulsion to adoration) are really fascinating, and it's so, so odd that most of the actual college students I know right now have told me they've hated it or have heard nothing but bad things about it. Bizarre...

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