Is Springbreakers saying something profound about disillusioned western youth and the hideous culture of sleaze that surrounds them or is it just teen sexploitation tricked up with art house gimmicks? One thing is certain, this film, the latest from the ironically named Harmony Korine, will divide audiences like a meat cleaver.
Spring break is the American equivalent of schoolies where uni students and adventurous high school kids head to Florida to obliterate their livers and their septums. In this film, four teens: the obnoxious brats Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Brit (Ashley Benson), the easily-led Cotty (Harmony’s wife Rachel Korine) and the innocent and thoughtful Faith (Selena Gomez) head to spring break in Florida to escape from their apparently mundane lives as over-privileged white Americans. The unsubtly named Faith is also having disturbing doubts about her Christian beliefs. Things don’t augur well for Faith, however, when Candy and Brit acquire the necessary cash for the trip by holding up a chicken restaurant. When the partying quartet become involved with a gun-toting white trash gangster named Alien (James Franco), the Florida trip becomes too intense for Faith and Cotty but more exciting for the crazed Candy and Brit.
There’s about five and a half minutes of actual plot in this Girls Gone Wild with machine guns but it seems that a satisfying, robust narrative is the last thing on Korine’s mind. Like the four girls, he’s more concerned with immediate sensory experience as he fills the screen with woozy, hallucinogenic images of sun, sex, drugs, violence and cavorting bodies and pummels our ears with menacing dub-step music. Also, to mimic the girls’ and particularly Faith’s experience in this weird and threatening environment, he creates an uneasy and disorientating effect by constantly recycling images and dialogue fragments. While this technique is initially effective, it soon becomes repetitive and dull.
Far more memorable than Korine’s questionable cinematic tricks are the disturbingly realistic performances from Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson as the vile Candy and Brit. Their selfishness, hostility, foul mouths and apparent disregard for human life is surprisingly confronting and brings an edginess and honesty to the film.
As Alien, the erratic James Franco delivers one of his better performances. With his corn rows, shiny grill, neck tatts, bling and revolting technicolour shirts, Alien is a riot. At one point he plays a Britney Spears song on his white pool-side piano while the girls, wearing pink balaclavas with cute little unicorn motifs, sing along. With his crazed sermons about his criminal success, Alien appears to have been designed to represent some monstrous vision of American aspirational culture gone haywire but in the end he’s just a comical sleaze bag.
Although Selena Gomez gains our sympathy as a troubled innocent, her character is oddly inconsistent. The film makes a joke of how astonishingly naïve she is as she rhapsodises about the trip being an enlightening spiritual experience while images of stripper dancing, binge drinking and coke hoovering fill the screen, yet she isn’t taken in by the smooth talking Alien for a second.
Korine depicts spring break in Florida as a kind of sunlit Sodom and Gomorrah with sweaty hordes of salacious, half-naked teens gyrating in slow motion to the music of Skrillex while drenching themselves in tequila or snorting coke off a stranger’s belly. Whether or not Korine disapproves of this world is uncertain as he alternates Fellini-like between disgust and glee at the partygoers antics.
Similarly, the bizarre and patently ridiculous ending leaves us uncertain of exactly what Korine is trying to say with Springbreakers. Maybe the gratuitous crotch shots of girls wearing nothing but bikinis is meant to suggest the confronting otherness of burgeoning female sexuality in a male dominated world or maybe this film is just an exercise in sleaze designed to titillate drooling teens and the raincoat brigade.
Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.
Director(s): Harmony Korine.
Release date: 9th May 2013
Running time: 94 mins.
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