Oh, where to begin with Harmony Korine’s latest gonzo provocation?
Yes, Spring Breakers is indeed an outrage and an abomination. It’s also some kind of masterpiece. Sort of like what might happen if Jean-Luc Godard directed a Girls Gone Wild video, here’s a film that wallows in everything toxic, empty and nihilistic about American youth culture, sumptuously scolding with a knowing guffaw. It’s not just a movie that has its cake and eats it, too. This is a movie that has its cake and then eats more cake.
The cake, in this case, would be barely legal bikini babes boozing and drugging it up at a Florida beach party that never, ever ends. Korine hired Gaspar Noe’s genius cinematographer Benoit Debie to prowl around actual collegiate bacchanals, casting a painterly light on the multitudes of jiggling boobs and buttocks. (“The camera is like a tongue,” a colleague commented online. She clearly wasn’t as amused as I was.)
Disney child star refugees Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens find themselves very far afield from the Mouse House, accompanied by Korine’s wife Rachel as a quartet of bored undergrads longing to enact that new sacred rite of a young girl’s passage into womanhood: getting blackout wasted and grinding with questionable guys for a week someplace where the music is too loud, and the weather isn’t so shitty. Gomez is the odd girl out, as she attends campus Bible studies, and we’re supposed to understand she’s religious because her name is Faith. The other three are fairly interchangeable and doodle dicks on their notebooks during class, writing notes that read, “I want penis.”
They leave Gomez back at the dorm when it comes time to knock over a Chicken Shack so they can score funds for their trip. They’re armed with spray-painted squirt guns and semiotic signifiers, while Korine make his intentions plain with looping, recurring snatches of dialogue: “Act like you’re in a movie.” “Just pretend it’s a video game.” And most tellingly: “All this money makes my pussy wet.”
Such tawdry trash is elevated to the realm of art by Korine’s astonishing command of technique. Debie’s photography alternates between sun-dappled vistas and nighttime orgies of neon. Editor Douglas Crise shatters the scenes into tiny fragments, overlapping the dialogue tracks with incongruous visuals and skipping from past to present on woozy whims. There’s a slightly addled, impressionistic sensation to watching Spring Breakers as the scenes fold outward and then collapse in upon themselves, suspended in time because the party never ends.
And then James Franco shows up to take over the whole movie and possibly the world. As a meth-dealing rapper called Alien—real name Al, but he claims to be from another planet—Franco delivers one of those instantly iconic performances where you can already guess that every douchebag you know is gonna be him for Halloween this year. (Including me.) Barely recognizable beneath the long cornrows, oversized shades and ridiculous grillz on his teeth, he’s armed to the bone with an arsenal of automatic weapons and even more disposable income. Alien is the walking embodiment of self-obsessed, empty-headed avarice, but the key to Franco’s sly performance is that he’s kind of adorable. We haven’t seen a hardcore wannabe-black routine like this since Gary Oldman’s Drexl Spivey in True Romance, but Franco is far too delighted with himself to be so threatening. A guided tour around his consumer-heaven domicile, punctuated by ecstatic cries of “Look at my shit!” has just rendered Baz Lurhmann’s upcoming Great Gatsby even more unnecessary than it already was. How can Jay Gatsby top Alien having a ginormous plasma screen dedicated to only showing Scarface on repeat? “On repeat!” Franco squeals with an oddly contagious joy.
Welcoming our gals into his harem by serenading them with a deliriously melancholy rendition of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” on his grand piano, Franco drags out the song’s finale with somber keys and a whispered mantra: “Sprang breeak ... sprang breaaak ... sprang breaaak,” as if the party will never end just by force of his repetitious willpower.
Of course, every party is over eventually, and this one closes with the rhapsodically ineffable image of machine gun-toting hotties in bikinis and pink My Little Pony ski-masks. Korine has always been a moralist at heart—after all, this guy made a name for himself at age 19 by penning Larry Clark’s tsk-tsk AIDS exploitation drama Kids. But as a director, he’s been more interested in the kind of ugly outcasts and weirdly soulful grotesques you will only find in films like Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, Mister Lonely and Trash Humpers.
The enfant terrible is now 40 years old, and Spring Breakers is Harmony Korine’s horror movie about the so-called beautiful people. It’s angry, envious and gloriously mocking all at the same time. I loved every perverted, conflicted minute of it.
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