Title: Spring Breakers (2013)
Director: Harmony Korine
Cast: James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Corine
Watching a Harmony Korine film can be a grueling experience, don’t know how many of you out there have seen Korine’s first film Gummo (1997), but it is such a raw and crude film that it can prove to be too much for some people. But then, the thing about Korine’s films is that most of the time they mix the real with the fictional until the lines blur and you don’t know which one is which. There’s lots of improvisation to his films, magical moments are provoked and end up happening in front of the camera, take for example a scene in which one of the girls puts a gun in James Franco’s mouth and he begins to start giving the gun a blow job. That scene was improvised! On Gummo we meet these two hill billy teenagers whom we follow through a day in their life, in their neighborhood. Man, let me tell ya, you never saw America look so ugly! You know how most films will film in these squeaky clean beautiful locations? Well, not Korine, for Gummo he went to the ugliest, scummiest parts of America to capture a side of American life you probably don’t want to see. Which is why Korine’s latest, Spring Breakers, surprised me a bit. I mean, first thing I thought when I heard about this movie having girls in bikini from beginning to end was how Korine had sold out! I was like, damn, he finally broke down and did a commercial film! Which is like the furthest thing on my mind when I think of an ateur like Korine, but there it is. Spring Breakers. A "commercial film" that made its budget back more than three times over!
Spring Breakers is all about these four girls who are bored of college and want to have fun, they are ready to cut loose and live life to the fullest; squeeze it for all it’s worth. Basically they want to fulfill every hedonistic desire they can think of. So they do what any penniless college girls would do, they rob a restaurant, take the money and run. For a while, their plan works, but then things take a turn towards the dark side. Will they end up living the American Dream or the American Nightmare?
Spring Breakers was a confusing film for me because the marketing made it look like one of those dumb movies about young kids partying like animals, you know, like Project X (2012) 21 & Over (2013). I personally don’t like these types of movies; don’t know why, I guess they feel overtly stupid to me somehow. So I kind of let Spring Breakers slip by me because of this preconception of the type of movie it might be. But deep down inside I thought to myself that Harmony Korine was not the kind of guy who’d sell out like that. I mean, his movies were always so shocking, like a solid punch to your gut! They aren’t pretty things, they focus on the dark side of humanity. Some of his films, like for example Mister Lonely (2007) are incredibly surrealistic, feeling like something Alejandro Jodorowsky might have directed. So yeah, it surprised me then that Korine was suddenly doing this movie filled with sunsets and beaches and beautiful people in bikinis. So was Korine betraying himself with Spring Breakers? I get what he did here. Korine's films never made money. They were always art house films deemed too shocking or weird for mass consumption, but you know how the movie world is; directors have to walk that fine line between making art and making money if they want to stay in the game. And so girls in flourescent bikinis was a smart move on Korine's part; yes my friends, sex will always sell. But did Korine sell out all the way? Hell no!
The deal with Spring Breakers is that from a distance, it looks like your typical party film about young people getting drunk and doing stupid things. And for a while, this movie is about that. These girls go into the heart of Spring Break in Florida and go all out, they smoke their weed, do their coke, have sex like maniacs, basically these girls party like animals, but like most films about excess, there’s the dark side. The side where life shows you that going over board has its limits and that having your brain on stupid mode for so long will blind you to the consequences of your actions. I liked how the film starts out in a beautiful place and slowly descends into a very dark place. We are talking about young girls who like the dangerous side of life, they like to test their limits, they want to see how far they can go without getting in trouble. Hell, these girls are described as having “demon blood” in their veins! It’s no wonder they end up being soul mates with ‘Alien’ the drug dealing character played by James Franco.
And speaking of James Franco, wow, what a performance. I have to say the guy really surprised me with this one. I mean, I’ve always admired his work but honestly? To me this is his best performance yet, he really created a character here. When the girls fall into Aliens hands, you worry for their safety. Alien exudes true evil, they kind of evil that comes from a person who understands the hypnotic influence of words, money and power! He brought to mind a similar character played by Gary Oldman in Tony Scott’s True Romance (1993), remember that one? The crazy white pimp who thought he was black? Alien has this out of control quality to him that’s scary, but also get the vibe that the guy is smart, he knows what to say and how to say it, especially to impressionable young girls. So be ready for a bravura performance, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a nomination come Oscar time! In embodies his character so well it reminded me of the Daniel Day Lewis transforming performance in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002). This is the kind of performance that an actor gets lost into. There’s some controversy concerning this character because supposedly, James Franco based his character on a real life rapper called Riff Raff? The full story is that Korine offered this role to Riff Raff, who turned down the role, so then it went to Franco. So the movie comes out and Riff Raff decides to sue Korine for 10 million dollars because he feels the character is based on him. Franco says no way, the character is based on another rapper called ‘Dangerous’. Controversy aside, the performance is phenomenal, not to be missed.
Sometimes you watch a movie and suddenly you know you’re watching one of the best movies of the year, and this is what happened to me with Spring Breakers. After a while I was just being floored away by this movie. The visuals are amazing, the party scenes were filmed with gusto, they don’t feel staged, they have that realism that I’ve come to expect from a Korine film, I’m sure they just filmed a real life party, you get the feeling things are unfolding in front of the camera naturally. Then there are the colors of the film which are intoxicating! Korine did things with fluorescent colors all throughout the film; the colors on this movie are loud and beautiful to look at. Kudo’s to Korine for trying something different, sometimes his films are so gritty and real, so harsh, but this one feels like some feverish drug addled dream; a different color from every pill taken in the film. The first few scenes filmed in St. Petersburg Florida look amazing, they make you want to pack up your bags on go on “Spring Break Forever”. Korine also did this great thing where he plays with images and dialog, to the point where they collide, juggling the two and making this interesting mix of dialog taking over the images and vice versa, loved that. Spring Breakers is a Korine film masqueraded as a commercial film, it’s the film that Oliver Stone’s Savages (2012) should have been, it has that edge that Savages was desperately in need of. Everyone talks about this one as “the movie with the four girls in bikini from beginning to end” and you might make the same mistake I did, mistaking it for a stupid movie, well, let me tell ya, it isn’t. This movie might just knock your socks off and become one of your favorite movies of the year.
Rating: 5 out of 5