In a 2009 interview with IndieWire, director Harmony Korine said: “I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t like provoking an audience. What I want to provoke is a real reaction. I can’t imagine making something and not wanting people to feel it even if a large portion of the audience doesn’t want to have anything to do with the feeling.” This attitude creates films that are often willfully ugly, uncomfortable or shocking. By proxy, Korine is either lauded with praise for his uncompromising vision as a director or with disdain as a loathsome arthouse huckster (all depending on how you feel about all this bad medicine and pitch black deviance as art). His latest, Spring Breakers, is easily his most accessible film, but don’t let that fool you. This movie remains one of the sleaziest, trashiest fever dreams you’re likely to ever see in a theater. This is a love it or hate it affair that I’ve remained mostly indifferent toward in the three days since I first watched Spring Breakers. I’m fascinated by what the film appears — or possibly wants — to be, while finding the execution lacking. Your own reaction will depend on how in tune you are with Korine’s specific wavelength.
What is Spring Breakers about, exactly? Let’s start off thematically since Korine is less concerned with plot or realism, and is more interested in creating a garish, exploitative fantasy world. Spring Breakers might be a take on booze-soaked party films like the recent 21 and Over. Or maybe it’s a morally neutral look at America’s underbelly and the American Dream perverted by drugs, sex, guns and crime. Possibly, the film could be considered an occasionally surreal descent into a metaphysical neon hell that echoes Lars von Trier, Werner Herzog and just a tiny bit of David Lynch while being filtered through a pastiche of modern pop culture (complete with the gimmick of sullying the names of the film’s three leads — Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson — who built careers by being family-friendly tween stars). Or maybe Spring Breakers is none of these things, as Korine only lightly touches on any subject and takes extra care to avoid any overt points. Because of this, Spring Breakers might be none of the things I’ve mentioned. Instead it could be a work of nihilism, which is perhaps the movie’s most fascinating trait. With this film, it is meant to be whatever you want: high art or lowly junk, existing as everything or nothing.
In a more practical sense, Spring Breakers is about four bored college girls who are tired of small-town life, who rob a diner so they can run off to Florida for spring break, a concept that has been elevated here to some sort of Sodom and Gomorrah tale. They meet up with an eccentric white-trash rapper/drug dealer who goes by the name of Alien (James Franco with a platinum grill, bad tattoos and natty cornrows) who leads them into more debauchery. And therein lies the biggest flaw in Spring Breakers: Those two sentences of plot description are pretty much all you get. Subtext can’t hold a film up on its own, especially when its story is already stretched to the limit, bogged down by languid pacing and with hardly any characterization. There’s no one to root for (the closest thing we have to a moral compass, Gomez’s character, Faith, leaves town halfway through the movie), and even less to relate to in this film. This is purposeful with Korine’s drug-and-violence-fueled Technicolor nightmare, which strives more for a general mood rather than traditional entertainment (at least in any sense that’s not perverse).This — for myself at least — makes Spring Breakers more of an occasionally curious artistic exercise and little else. Your feelings may very well differ — and likely fall in one extreme or another. Rated R for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas