Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Spring Breakers

Grade: 49/C+

Ever since he burst onto the scene with his first screenplay, 1995’s Larry Clark-directed Kids, enfant terrible Harmony Korine has established a reputation as one of the most self-conscious provocateurs working in modern cinema. Korine’s films are ugly, by design, and are largely destined for a marginal following, at best. Yet his recent film, Spring Breakers, is one of the big indie success stories of the year, having grossed $31 million against a $5 million budget. It’s easily his most accessible and, to some degree, enticing film to date. That doesn’t mean it’s particularly good.

The film concerns four college students- ringleaders Brit and Candy (Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens), good girl Faith (Selena Gomez), and Cotty (Korine’s wife Rachel), who could best be classified as “the other one”. The party-happy girls want to go on spring break in Florida, but they don’t have enough money. The girls rob a fast-food restaurant and travel to Florida, where they are eventually arrested at a drug-fueled party. The four are bailed out by a strange rapper/gangster named Alien (James Franco), but Faith is uncomfortable with Alien’s lifestyle, and soon the girls disappear down the rabbit hole of moral degradation.

That’s applying more narrative to the film than the director is really interested in. At his heart, Korine is a sensualist, and for a while he crafts a seductive, impressionistic portrait of hedonism in youth culture, filled with booze, boobs, drugs, and plenty of attitude. Even as the plot kicks in, the best moments are less about character and more about the girls following Franco (in an inspired performance that turns a potential caricature into a human being) as he brags about how much shit he has, including “Scarface on repeat” and “shorts of every fuckin’ color”. As shot by Benoit Debie, edited by Douglas Crise and Adam Robinson, and set to the music of Cliff Martinez and Skrillex (tolerable here and nowhere else), it’s often enticing surface material.

Profound social commentary, however, it is not. Korine has trouble sustaining interest past the forty-minute mark, as there’s only so much wanton hedonism one can take before it stops being guiltily enjoyable and becomes boring. When he tries to say something about youth culture, meanwhile, it’s embarrassing, frankly. Korine still hasn’t overcome the sensationalism that made Kids so tiresome, and while his mixture of glorification and tut-tutting at bad behavior isn’t as leaden and infuriating as that of Lee Daniels, it’s still enervating stuff. This is the kind of film that thinks saying things about the American Dream over and over again automatically leads to profundity, or that a few bad apples are a real indictment of modern youth culture. Korine doesn’t even fully exploit the stunt-casting of former Disney stars like Hudgens and Gomez, as the characters are vague, interchangeable figures, and none of the actresses have a chance to set them apart from each other. Korine’s gifts with composition and rhythm are clear, but he has an even bigger problem than his irritating stabs at provocation- he has jack shit to say.

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