The New York Times calls it “transfixing”, Richard Roeper says it’s “the most unforgettable movie of the year so far”, and Ain’t It Cool News says it’s “an electrifying masterpiece”. I wouldn’t exactly go that far, but I would say this is quite a special movie. Unfortunately though it’s not as special as director Harmony Korine (Kids, Trash Humpers) may think it is, nor as special as it could have been. In the end though when all is said and done, it’s a winner. When I first heard of this last summer during press for the Venice Film Festival, at which it received a standing ovation, I was pulled into it’s allure when it was described as having “a centerpiece sequence where a shirtless James Franco sits at a white piano by the beach, plinking out Britney Spears’ “Everytime,” as the girls frolic with shotguns while dressed in swimsuit tops, DTF-emblazoned sweats, and pink ski masks.” If anything I knew this was going to be a visual feast for the senses, a glorious, sunny, neon-drenched celebration of filth – and that’s exactly what it ended up being. So I left the theater more than pleased, but also a little let down in the sense that all the elements were there for what Korine was trying to convey, but didn’t execute. Four bored college girls with a little more on their mind than education have been saving money for months to get themselves down to Florida for spring break, but when it’s clear they don’t have nearly enough for even a night in a hotel, their desperation leads to desperate measures, and the next thing they know they are holding up a local restaurant in order to fund their trip. It’s just the first in a string of bad decisions on the road to the capital of college-aged bad decisions – St Petersburg, Florda. Korine clearly wanted to show the steady decline of our society into hyper-vapidness, soullessness and materialism so extreme that breasts are now as easy to purchase and trade-in as the classic American car. Beneath the gorgeous skin of early 20’s men and women is an ugliness that is incomprehensible, especially when it only seems to be getting worse as the years pass and society “progresses”. The problem for the film is most people know this already. Korine is not telling us anything new or groundbreaking in thought. If he had humanized the characters more in order to make up for that, like providing some back story beside showing them acting like perverted children in class before they are to take off on their trip, then what results by the films end would have been all the more shocking and sad. The viewer would have felt their actions, would have been more disgusted, their inner pain that caused them to act the way they did would have been understood. This was Korine’s gigantic missed opportunity in making this film as effective as I believe he wanted it to be. Perhaps the emptiness, the lack of connection with the characters is the point entirely, but it felt to me the film would have been much better off with a more human element than what is here. There is a quiet moment that gave me hope towards the end where Faith removes herself from the situation after being intuitive enough to see things are not going to end well. The scene of her bus ride home is effective and sweet – thanks to Selena Gomez’s surprising acting chops – as the good and innocence within her wins out and takes her where she needs to be. The quietness of her escape along with the film’s score’s more subtle moments really shines, but unfortunately it is short lived.
Now of course I said this movie was special, and besides it failing to take advantage of it’s chances to add more depth and story, it’s simply fascinating to watch. Somehow Korine is able to take the opening slow motion shots of topless women dancing on a beach – and men acting like 13 year old boys – to a loud pulsing trashy electronic score by Skrillex – and make it look gorgeous. The lush visual tone sustains consistently throughout the film which gives it the balance this sort of subject matter needs. The contrast between what is ugly and what is beautiful on screen then comes alive in the audience as you become mortified that you are laughing at this – a full on assault from the opening shot of everything that is unnerving and appalling about our next generation. It’s all so ugly, yet it’s beautiful and funny. You feel completely wrong for what you’re enjoying looking at on screen. From then on it gets surreal, not just from being subjected to the grotesque that is this kind of spring break, but to the quick decay of the girls. And of course the entrance of James Franco as rapper/drug dealer Alien is beyond amusing. It seems pretty clear his inspiration for his performance was Gary Oldman’s fantastic Drexl in True Romance, but as minutes pass on Franco makes the character his own, and his performance becomes fun to watch in all it’s complete absurdity. At first Spring Breakers sadly feels like everything we’re already aware of from what we’ve seen before in the news and in pop culture about today’s youth, but with it’s presentation here it all feels fresh. On paper it seems to be standard fare, but on screen with Korine’s visual sense it’s something I haven’t experienced in the theater before and probably won’t again. It’s visually effective, and to an extent it’s message is effective but didn’t go nearly as far as it could have, and especially when Korine has that capacity as he has shown before. This is definitely a love it or hate it film – and it’s unfortunate that so many have closed their minds to this thinking this is just your average teenage party film. It’s far from it – and although it may not be as deep as thought-provoking as it intended, it’s a fascinating film. It’s a beautiful nightmare, a completely surreal, disgusting yet utterly gorgeous dayglo horrow show. The Boston Globe said “At first glimpse, the movie is frat-comedy business as usual: images of half-clad college kids reveling in slow motion on the beaches of St. Petersburg, Fla. But the shots are held too long and the faces are dull-eyed and grotesque; the beer tubes and bong hits and naked breasts shade from bacchanalian to robotic. We seem to have left MTV’s spring break and entered David Lynch’s.” I see the comparison, but I found it to be more of an updated Natural Born Killers – which seems to sadly speak for the youth of today far more than it should.