Director Harmony Korine may lech over Spring Breakers’ bikini-clad heroines, but he’s also on their side in his funniest and least irritating movie yet.
Spring Breakers is going to be like prom night or Thanksgiving: an alien American institution we’ve been familiar with so much in pop culture that it’s almost as if we Brits have experienced it in our rainy Brit lives. Anyway, we’re expected to be in on the cultural reference – in this case, lithe, young college kids partying super hard in sunny Florida during the March vacation.
The Glasgow comic Kevin Bridges famously took a stand against this Americanization, seriously recalling watching high school films with “spring break” shots: “We didn’t have ‘spring break’; we had the Easter holidays.” Like a Christmas movie in December, this film has actually been released at the correct seasonal time, although it means less in the shivering UK than in the US. James Franco’s creepy gangsta character in this film is always intoning the words: “Spring Breeeeaaak …” in a state of bleary ecstasy, as if invoking, or desecrating, a quasi-religious icon.
Harmony Korine has provided us a violent pulp true romance that should be renamed A Pre-Summer’s Night’s Wet Dream. Like the exploitation movies by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, it’s the sort of film that feels as if it was created to fit the poster. The huge difference is that those movies signaled that they were faux-trash. This is more like the real thing. Spring Breakers movie is Korine’s most technically competent and fluent work; perhaps his most commercial, his funniest, perhaps even his least irritating.
He delivers four lissome heroines who show up in their bikinis pretty much all the time. Even in court. After a while, you have to ask yourself where the hell they are keeping their hotel-room keys, money and phones etc. Korine turned notorious with the script he wrote for Larry Clark’s Kids in the 1990s and now, at 40, he has gained, well, not maturity to be exact, but a sort of seniority, bordering on the maestro-perviness of the great Clark himself. The plot concerns college students who are bored with their course and their lives: they zone out and pass rude notes to one another during lectures on African-American experiences in the postwar US; this academic subject is an empty touch of insolence on Korine’s part, given the overtly racial aspect of what is finally to happen. These badass girls are Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty, played by the director’s wife, Rachel Korine.
Started from their days back in kindergarten, they are friendly with Faith (Selena Gomez), a modest Christian girl. Our heroines are desperate to go on spring break, but have no cash – so with courage, masks and a fake gun, they knock over a fast-food restaurant and gloatingly exult in their cash (“It makes my tits look bigger!”). Taking Faith with them, they head for party central in the Sunshine State, falling there under the dangerous spell of the drug dealer, rapper and automatic-weapons-enthusiast Alien. He is portrayed with tattoos, metal teeth and cornrows by James Franco. Alien conceives a kind of passion for these women, like a non-pimp pimp who doesn’t intend them to have sex with anyone but him. All too obvious, Korine is ventriloquizing himself with this specific character.
Like that other spring-break classic, Piranha 3D, Spring Breakers is naturally an excuse to show lots of semi-naked women and men – but mostly women – with in-your-face/in-their-swimsuit-area shots. Alien is always amazed at how gorgeous his foursome are: giggling, they pose for the imaginary picture he frames with his fingers – and still all the women and indeed men on camera are pretty. Korine is giving us a preselected, pre-auditioned representation of youth and beauty.
For all its absurdity and voyeurism, Korine brings to it a real authorial style. He shapes the pulp. He leches over the women, but he is also on their side. It is a world away from his (interesting) experimental piece Trash Humpers, and also, thankfully, from his excruciatingly annoying drama Mister Lonely. The huge party sequences – in the pool, on the beach, in the hotel room, on the balcony – are breezily choreographed in montage, and the more desolate “reportage” takes outside all-night convenience stores look amazing. There is an undeniable directorial strut in Spring Breakers full movie. Where, precisely, he is strutting to is another question.
As for Faith, the good girl, her role is unexpected. Much is made of her attendance in Christian prayer groups, which sometimes convene in front of a huge stained-glass window. Given Faith’s background, I wondered if there would be some reference, ironic or otherwise, to Good Friday or Easter Sunday – the events that license the holiday. But no. I doubt the idea never come up in Harmony Korine’s mind for a moment. It is an entirely pagan entertainment.