Spring Breakers – 2013 – dir. Harmony Korine
There are a lot of different ways that you can approach contemporary youth culture from a critical perspective. You can look at the partying, the intoxication, the mindless sexual obsession, the self-numbing music, the violent videogames and movies; being a part of this culture myself, I know there is a lot to criticize. So you take all of those ideas and filter them through a story about spring break. In the Lifetime Movie you have three girls, the good, the bad, and the naïve who want to go on their dream spring break adventure. The good girl is willing to go along until she realizes how ugly things could turn out at which point she leaves to live a happy life. The naïve girl doesn’t know any better and probably blacks out as the victim of sexual assault. The bad girl wants to party all the time and eventually dies of a drug overdose. It’s tragic and melodramatic and cliché, the acting would be atrocious and the writing predictable, but overall its harmless. The other route is Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and while it takes everything to the max, he forgets the art of subtlety in film and lets his message get ahead of the medium.
Spring Breakers stars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine as the four girls (because more girls means more opportunities for titillation) wanting to go on their ultimate Spring Break adventure.
As a side note, many will comment that Hudgens and Gomez sought out these roles to break out of their Disney personas; I think that is incredibly short sighted considering the context of the film and their characters within it. Gomez was the irresponsible trouble maker in Wizards of Waverly Place and is the good would be Christian girl in Breakers. Hudgens was the couldn’t-hurt-a-fly good girl of the Highschool Musical series and plays the sociopathic sex kitten in Breakers. It was Korine that chose these actresses specifically to play against type and shock in comparison to their regular persons. Korine understand the important of the metanarrative in art films and he is using it very intentionally.
The four girls get caught with drugs at one of their parties and are arrested. While not in any serious trouble, they would have had to stay in county for two days because they had no money for the fine. To the rescue comes drug dealer and amateur would-be rap star Alien (James Franco). After paying their fine he takes them around to see his friends, Faith (Gomez) gets scared and decides to leave. Left with the three other girls, Alien reinitiates a feud with a rival dealer who ends up shooting Cotty (Korine) who then also goes home. Candy (Hudgens) and Britt (Benson) then engage in some raunchy times with Alien before they go to exact revenge on the rival dealer.
This film is ripe with social commentary. The oddly non-linear frame and the montage style allow Korine to take normally titillating footage of partying coeds and turn it into sensory overload and monotony. Alien is introduced as the symbolic representation of his oft repeated line “Spring break forever,” because that seems to be exactly what the girls desire. Each of the girls is intentionally and deliberately characterized to represent their archetype (Gomez is good, Korine is naïve, and Hudgens and Benson are sociopathic sex kittens). The music, drugs, sex, and violence are all extreme and are used for deliberate symbolic purposes. All of this would make for a brilliant art film if Korine hadn’t forgotten about the most important tool at a an artist’s disposal; subtlety.
The obviousness of Korine’s intended message made took the content that he wanted to be powerful and made it laughable and pathetic. The characters archetypes are more than just obvious, they are being used to whack the audience over the head with the message. Gomez is a good Christian girl (shown at a youth group meeting) named Faith who shows signs of regret at every turn. Hudgens oversexualizes every aspect of her performance with her movements and dialogue but piles on her sociopathic nature by obsessively making fake guns with her hands and pretending to shoot everyone and everything. Alien starts as a creepy extreme of the hedonistic spring break holiday, but his scenes are over extended to where the potentially scary message is lost. He is then given some vulnerability which never really materializes and feels like a waste of time. The worst offence is the line, “Spring break forever,” which is ethereally repeated (dozens of times). Korine does criticize hedonistic youth culture, but the way he does it is totally ineffective.
Korine is obviously educated in the methods of art film, he just doesn’t know when to let go. Spring Breakers could have been a great film, but after it’s all said and done its just forgettable.