Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Breakers - Harmony Korine

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine — USA) 94 minutes

Spring Breakers opens with a five-minute montage of young, lithe-bodied men and women gyrating, as scantily clad as possible, on a beach, pouring liquor down one another’s throats, simulating all manner of improbable sex acts for a camera that makes these anonymous hot bodies stars for a moment. It is a bacchanalia of bum-wagging, captured in a gaudy, faux-faded filter. It is not, as the prim and the high-minded are wont to say of pornography, very ‘erotic’. But that is hardly the point.

There will be those who regard this opening sequence with absolute delight — be it innocent or lascivious — and others that will, against their own libidinal urges, view it with horror. In this respect, Spring Breakers might be said to be, in the fullest sense of the word, an ironic film. It means several things at once and it is never clear who the film is aimed at. It has the superficial patina of a teen movie but it rarely strikes you as being anything that will interest teenagers much beyond its passing infatuation with drink, drugs and sex. It is also savvy enough for older audiences to watch without feeling, well, so dirty.

Harmony Korine is back to where his career started, as the young screenwriter of Larry Clark’s kids, a film that was controversial upon its release in 1995, but in comparison with this latest film, seems like a work of the utmost sobriety. Now aged 40, Korine is probably old enough to pass muster as a dirty old man, even if Spring Breakers has enough youthful exuberance and sympathy with its characters to feel like the work of a generational insider. You also suspect that Korine had to arm-wrestle the project off his old collaborator Clark, something for which we might be thankful. Larry Clark is one of the most unpleasant filmmakers currently drawing breath, a man whose panglossian prurience masks a fundamental school-masterly disgust with the specimens under his microscope. Korine is a far more interesting director, more given to flights of poetic fancy, even if his films to date (with the exception of Gummo) have generally been more alluring in concept than execution.

The film follows four broke college freshmen girls, who clean out a diner and its patrons at gunpoint one night to make their way down to St Petersburg, Florida for the season that has, over the past two decades, become synonymous with the excesses of American youth. In a clever touch, Korine casts actresses with less sulphurous screen reputations — two former Disney child actors (Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez), a daytime soap star (Ashley Benson), as well as Korine’s own younger wife Rachel. The film is, in effect, asking its audience the filmic equivalent of ‘do you know where your children are?’ The four go through the hedonistic paces before being arrested for possession of drugs. They are bailed out by "Alien", a scary-looking low-level gangster, played by James Franco, who initiates them into a life of petty larceny, even Alien’s braggadoccio is underpinned by little more substantial than robbing hapless college students.

Spring Breakers is for much of its running time a bit of a mess — the characters and situations are cursorily sketched and the gobbledegook spouted in the voiceover by Gomez’s character Faith about spirituality and togetherness indicates Korine is making things up pretty much as he goes along. But if it is a mess, it is a hot one. Franco, in particular, is great, relishing yet another stab at oddness, and adding another rather facile string to his whimsical bow. Nobody appears to be taking the whole thing too seriously — just as well, as a spring break film played as a straight thriller would most likely be damn intolerable. Korine has clearly been playing attention to Greg Araki, who has long realised that the best way of filming gilded youth gone wild is to crank up the camp and not be afraid of letting it get ridiculous.