Friday 12 April 2013

Spring Breakers (2013) - Harmony Korine

Every American teenager has to endure the rite of passage that is spring break.  Likewise, every Disney princess must go through their own rite of passage: the sexy phase.  It occurred with the likes of Britney and Miley Cyrus, and now it’s the turn of Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez.  In a desperate attempt to lose her innocence, you can now hear the High School Musical star spouting lines like “Looking at all this money is making my p*ssy wet”.

This is the level of Korine’s Spring Breakers, a film that’s marginally above pornography.  It’s a film about the loss of innocence as four girls on spring break in Florida get involved in a crime ring led by Alien – James Franco dressed as Sean Paul doing a laughable impression of a white gangster.  It's a mirror image of everything that's wrong with American teenage society.  

Korine’s camerawork and editing is agitated and fidgety, overlaying images and voiceovers into a ninety minute long montage accompanied by a Skrillex score.  Much like a music video, it's a reflection on pop culture.  It certainly creates forward momentum, but the rhythm is ruined by the amount of repetition.  The same lines and footage are replayed again and again, which somewhat overstates the point.  Paradoxically, the urgency of the cinematography is undermined by the glacial pace of the narrative, a narrative that is filled with plot holes and requires the audience to suspend their disbelief on too many occasions.

The composition of the provocative images is well constructed and, at times, powerful.  Take, for example, the prominent image of the girls dressed in bikinis and balaclavas, holding machine guns whilst dancing around a piano played by Alien.  The significance of the song choice – Britney’s Everytime, her own anthem to loss of innocence – is obvious.  Yet so often Korine’s sleazy camera caresses the girls in oversaturated colour, daring to look beneath the pool water at their nubile bodies, which becomes uncomfortably voyeuristic.  This is matched by Alien's eerie repetition of "spring break" like some drugged-up, perverted ghost.  The visuals may be provocative and subversive, filled with gratuitous nudity and sexual and phallic symbolism, but never again do I wish to see James Franco deepthroating a pair of pistols.

Much of the narrative is left open-ended, but as such it’s difficult to comprehend Korine’s point of view.  Spring Breakers is essentially a film about female empowerment, but it’s negated by the constant objectification of women throughout.  Initially we sympathise with Gomez’s Faith (the religious one, obviously) who, fearing for their safety, flees for home, but Faith is quickly swept aside – literally and figuratively.  Florida is shot as a sun-dappled, glamorous paradise filled with violence – should we feel sorry for these girls as they’re seduced by corruption?  Is Korine condoning this slutty behaviour?  Are the girls really changed for the better?

Ultimately, Spring Breakers presents four silly little girls playing at being adults in a series of provocative images that amount to very little.  There may be some artistic merit in Korine’s cinematography, but for the most part this film borders on the abhorrent.

Spring break for never.