Spring Breakers is a bizarre collaboration between three of Hollywood's teen princesses and Harmony Korine, a writer-director who has put years of effort into cultivating his reputation as one of independent filmmaking's naughtiest boys.
He made his screen debut in 1995 as a 19-year-old enfant terrible with his script for Kids, photographer Larry Clark's voyeuristic study of a gang of New York school drop-outs who spend their days skateboarding, getting stoned and seducing 13- and 14-year-olds.
|Actors||Jamse Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine|
|OFLC rating||R 18+|
Four college girls who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation find themselves bailed out by a drug and arms dealer who wants them to do some dirty work.
On YouTube, you can find a Letterman interview with him soon after the film's release. He looks like a bashful prep school boy who can't quite understand why the audience is so delighted by his non-sequiturs and deadpan delivery. By his second appearance, Letterman has him pegged as ''pleasantly odd''. Later on, he's not so sure. By now, Korine is wearing tattered sneakers and a hoodie, which, he says drolly, he has rented for the occasion. And he's made Gummo, the relentlessly pessimistic low-budget feature that marked his debut as a director.
Three more features followed together with a clutch of short films, and while I'm no expert on his oeuvre, I can say that none of it distinguished him as a future match for Disney graduates Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez. Nonetheless, here they are alongside Ashley Benson (TV's Pretty Little Liars) and the director's wife, Rachel Korine. Their leading man is James Franco, wearing cornrows, metal teeth and knuckledusters and rejoicing in the nickname, Alien.
Alien is a gangster who picks the girls up in Florida, where they have joined the rest of the nation's high-school graduates on spring break. Thinking that he'll have some fun, he has bailed them out of jail, where they landed after being caught at a party raided by the drug squad. But instead of buying sex toys - as he imagined - he has acquired soulmates. The girls have financed their Florida trip by robbing a diner, which they've smashed up with hammers while threatening to do the same to the patrons. To psych themselves up beforehand, they urge one another to pretend that they're just playing a video game. Only one is at all squeamish about this modus operandi - Gomez's Faith who, true to her name, is burdened with a Catholic conscience.
When Alien appears, Faith sadly bids goodbye to the other three and boards the bus for home. They're sad, too, but not for long. Finding themselves a set of lolly-pink ski masks to accessorise their bikinis, they rapidly get acquainted with their new patron's cache of heavy weapons and prepare for the adventures to come.
They do a lot of this while wearing bikinis. Korine's visual style owes a lot to Clark, whose camera ranged over the young bodies in Kids with a salacious yet clinical fascination. We see it here, too. It seems as if Korine can't quite make up his mind if he's producing soft porn or filming puppies at play. He has said that he wanted the spring break scenes to have the dreamy intensity of a drug experience. Instead, everybody is trying so hard to look decadent that a distractingly athletic air enters the picture.
The girls bend forwards to inhale coke and back to swig booze or invite boys to snort coke from their breasts. They boogie, they swim, and they keep stroking one another's hair while reminding themselves what an unforgettable time they're having. Korine speeds up the editing, amps up the rap and dials up the pinks and aquas that dominate the film's neon-lit design. But nothing he does can dispel the air of repetitiveness.
Admittedly, much of it is supposed to be funny. After all, Korine is orchestrating a great joke at mainstream Hollywood's expense by having the star of High School Musical run wild with two other famously wholesome starlets. But this is also his only joke. You don't really have to see the film to get it. And when you do, you can't ignore the fact that there's a mean-spirited, exploitative edge to it.
Franco is responsible for the film's only bit of light relief. Showing off his ill-gotten assets to the girls, he starts reciting an inventory of his treasures, sounding like a small boy displaying his collection of superhero figures. The girls are not funny. Nor are they as scary as they ought to be, if we're to believe in their instant mastery of an assault weapon. Maybe Korine should have looked to reality TV instead of Disney. I'm guessing that the princesses from Los Angeles's TV institution, The Hills, would have proved natural casting.