When I first heard about Spring Breakers, I was more excited than I should have been. The film is the famed outsider Harmony Korine deciding that he would make a fairly conventional thriller starring some very popular teen idols. Normally, this would be a terrible waste. But Korine had built his career on preying the innocent, trying to find beauty in the most hideous of conditions, and turning wide eyed children into figures of filth. So far, I’ve only seen Kids (which he wrote, but did not direct) but I don’t think there are many who would disagree with my assessment. So when I saw that he was getting a bunch of Disney starlets who had, until now, been viewed as wholesome role models for many young women. He had managed to convince them to throw it all away. And to appeasr in scenes with James Franco after a trip to Lil’ Jon’s orthodontist.
It had the potential to be among the best films of the year, or the worst. There would be no other alternative. It will certainly be amongst the most polarizing – at my screening, there were legitimate chants of “money back! money back!” after the film ended by teens who were not sure what to expect. But it also has a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has a better score than The Croods.
This also meant Spring Breakers was something that had to be watched.
I found Spring Breakers to be more in the “great film” category rather than the “worst film of the year” designation. But I am probably going to be in the minority, at least to most audiences – certainly amongst the teens who were grossly mislead by the ad campaign. The film is not about Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez having fun and finding a Michael Bay-esque crime syndicate, and overcoming temptation. The film is (like the rest of Korine’s work) meant to be uncomfortable and polarizing. The characters are all horrible and do bad things to each other (the girls rob a local restaurant in order to finance their vacation). Spring Breakers, despite its wide release, is very much a Korine film; he did not compromise a single iota to appeal to a mass audience. That’s not something many people will be prepared to encounter, but it is also the absolute correct decision. It is impossible to dismiss the film by its garish, comedic surface. That’s part of the point.
Take James Franco, Most people will laugh and dismiss his performance as over the top and hopelessly comedic. What they won’t realize is that’s the point. Rapper Alien is a man who is severely broken, and has rebuilt himself as a rough sketch of Tony Montana. In those few moments that Franco lets the mask slip (such as one instance where he’s trying to prevent one of the girls from leaving) he shows Alien’s true self and gives the best performance I have seen all year. Alien is a very dangerous, creepy man, one whose comedic facade allows him to do terrible things. Most people will not look past that first layer (and thus boo) but that’s not the film’s fault.
Another item of note is the camera and editing, that makes the film resemble the morning after an enormous bender. The third act of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was very similar – imagine those scenes stretched out ninety minutes. Korine keeps the camera in a position to be a character – constantly moving, stopping to observe the depravity of the characters at their level (as though the audiences are eyewitnesses more than theater goers) and seems to be admonishing us for daring to look at these young women who are at their worst (and, the film hints, will not redeem themselves). It makes people uncomfortable (and thus boo), but again, that’s part of the point. I kind of hope Baz Luhrmann takes a similar approach with his upcoming Great Gatsby adaptation. For Korine, the camera is supposed to invite everyone to be Nick Carraway and watch as depraved party goers suffer the consequences of their actions.
About the aforementioned Kids, I wrote that “I admire what it does, I admire its execution, I admire its script, I admire everything about it. But I am not sure if I can honestly recommend it – it was far too hard to sit through.” Most of that holds true for Spring Breakers as well. I admire what it does, I admire its execution, I admire its script, and I admire everything about it. It is not an entertaining film to sit through, but that is mostly due to its free form structure rather than to its content. If you go in with the right mindset, then Spring Breakers is a rewarding film that reveals the excess of youth and how far people will go to hide their deeply held personal scars. If not…well, you’ll be chanting “money back” at the end of the film, but maybe that’s a sign you were unable to realize Korine had an important message for you.