Sunday, March 31, 2013
The most provocative thing about Spring Breakers is how boring it is, and the extent to which writer/director Harmony Korine is willing to bounce along on the movie’s faux-shocking surfaces even though he’s got the skills for something deeper. I think Korine wanted to make an ironic film about the ideas of “spring break” as a paradise and the naiveté of young women searching for self-definition, but he loses himself in the shiny things and lets one actor’s personality overwhelm everything else.
On a nondescript college campus somewhere cold, three girls are plotting a spring break trip. Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), and Cotty (Rachel Korine) don’t want to be the only ones not going to Florida but they lack the cash for the trip. Another friend, the younger and Christian Faith (Selena Gomez), wants to come too but is wary of what trouble Brit and Candy might get her into. An impulsive decision leads to a robbery that provides the money, and our heroines are soon on their way to sunshine and their idea of freedom. Once they arrive in Florida there’s an extended montage of partying; what begins with shots of topless women doing things with guys and beer on the beach turns into the drug-fueled party at which the girls get arrested. We see this first section through the eyes of Gomez’s Faith, who is frightened by her friends at the same time she’s drawn to the idea of the trip as a new beginning. Faith’s phone calls to her grandmother are heard in voice-over, and they’re as representative of a soul in crisis (if less well articulated) as anything in The Thin Red Line. We see Faith early on looking out-of-place at a campus bible study, and the phone calls reveal someone who isn’t fully formed yet. I wish the same point had been made by the character’s behavior, but Gomez does the best she can with her expressive eyes.
Another character enters Spring Breakers after Faith and her friends go to jail. Alien (James Franco) is a small-time drug dealer who sees the girls as potential soldiers in his war against a rival (Gucci Mane). I would much rather watch Franco do something like this than the Oz movie; he walks the line between funny and scary here and gives the movie a jolt of energy. The only problem is that Spring Breakers gets so involved with Alien’s story that it largely forgets what’s going on with the girls. I couldn’t quite fathom what Alien’s struggles as a small businessman have to do with these girls’ self-discovery, but Korine seems to think it’s awfully important. (Alien gets his own voice-overs too, but they don’t reveal much.) The effect of shifting focus to Alien is to strand Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens, whose performances both suggest levels of antipathy towards their own lives that the movie doesn’t have time to deal with. Both Brit and Candy make phone calls home before the climactic shootout, but in the absence of better developed characters it’s hard to tell whether Korine means for us to take these moments ironically. Instead Benson and Hudgens are turned into hot, bikini-clad accessories.
Spring Breakers is underwritten but beautifully shot; Korine deploys flash-forward, voice-over, and shifts in pace and tone with splendid control. The technical proficiency is fun to watch for awhile, but finally we needed stronger characters in order for what is on screen to be more than a pretty postcard.