Spring Breakers

Movie review by Greg Carlson

Hard to believe that Harmony Korine, the puckish provocateur who counts among his influences Cassavetes, Herzog, Lynch, Malick, and von Trier, is already forty years of age. At the time not much older than the members of the doom generation culture he depicted when his screenplay for Larry Clark’s “Kids” was produced in 1995, Korine has pushed buttons and tested limits from “Gummo” to “Trash Humpers,” remaining an eternally youthful agitator whose gift for troublemaking almost eclipses his talents as an auteur. While “Spring Breakers” at first seems like an unorthodox choice for the man whose unreleased projects include a documentary series of self-incited street altercations called “Fight Harm,” closer examination of the weirdly hypnotic new feature feels entirely of a piece with Korine’s oeuvre.

It’s highly unlikely that “Spring Breakers” would have received as much mainstream attention had Korine not persuaded former Disney-affiliated pop princesses Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens to engage in lurid physical displays in part designed to set ablaze existing “good girl” statuses. An obligation to spend nearly every onscreen moment dressed in bikini or less appears to be a contractual prerequisite for the primary quartet (Gomez and Hudgens are joined by Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine), a group of young women almost inexplicably desperate to make the pilgrimage to the sunny beaches of Florida.

Following a night of debauchery that lands our protagonists in jail, James Franco’s Alien (“Look at my shit!”), a posturing hustler whose cornrows compete with his glittering grill for most outrageous affectation, posts bail and forms an unwholesome attachment to the vacationers. Franco’s loopy, wannabe kingpin/pimp reframes the action and the game performer holds little if anything back in an oily tour de force, fellating gun barrels and covering Britney Spears’ “Everytime” with equal diligence and purpose. The individuation of Alien stands in stark contrast to the faceless interchangeability of the protagonists (only Gomez’s Faith, by virtue of her nervous apprehension, is made distinct from the other women).

Alien’s self-constructed identity highlights one of the thorniest issues at play in “Spring Breakers,” and both Richard Brody in “The New Yorker” and Aisha Harris in “Slate” build their challenging critiques around perceptions of Korine’s failure to address race with the same level of skill he applies to the other targets of his mockery. Harris argues that Korine “[reproduces] a racist vision of the world in which black lives matter less than white ones” and Brody invokes Mailer’s “The White Negro” along with suggesting that Korine holds a “stereotypical and reductive view of black life as one of drug dealing and gang violence.”

“Spring Breakers” resembles Korine’s previous work in that the presentation conflates satire and spectacle. The cocktail allows the film to operate like a drug-resistant superbug that resolutely masks the director’s clearest intent. The religious might bristle at Korine’s comfort with Faith’s ability to toggle between devotion and the pursuit of pleasure, but the straightforward presentation of her values, magnified by the character’s later exit from the circus, feels earnest and without condescension. Part of me kept waiting for her to come back.

According to Josh Eells in “Rolling Stone,” Korine uses the term “post-articulation” as a way to describe “Spring Breakers.” The movie’s ambitious editing, photography, score, and mise en scene combine to replicate the discombobulated swoon of a powerful, hallucinatory trip. The jumbled chronology, visual rhymes and repetitions, and looped fragments of dialogue embrace the glitches and abstractions that favor emotion and mood over logic and reason. The director’s ironic application of this strain of metafictive technique shields Korine from a certain kind of judgment, whether “Spring Breakers” merits it or not.

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