Dir: Harmony Korine
I’m about to give a somewhat controversial – or at least controversy courting – film the same grade as Chris Tookey gave it in The Daily Mail. Come back. I want to be clear here: I didn’t hate Spring Breakers because I found it objectionable or exploitative, to truly object to something on that level I think I would have to take it seriously, or consider that it was saying something, intentionally or otherwise, and Spring Breakers really isn’t. I guess what I’m trying to say is please don’t confuse me with some reactionary taking against this film because it’s ‘disgusting’.
To call the skeletal structure a story is perhaps to give Harmony Korine too much credit, but for the record: Four college friends; Candy, Brit, Cotty and Faith (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Selena Gomez respectively) want to go to Florida for spring break, but they don’t have the money. In order to get the money Candy, Brit and Cotty rob a diner, and soon the four are on their way. After getting arrested at a party the girls are bailed out by drug dealer and rapper Alien (James Franco). Christian Faith soon heads home, but the others stay and fall into Alien’s bed and his gang.
This very basic story is told in the most grating and tedious of ways. The film runs for 94 incredibly long minutes, but if somebody had forced Korine to stop repeating footage and dialogue over and over and over it would probably run for a third of that time. The film batters everything into you, especially its own shallowness which, I suppose, is Korine’s defence against charges of shallowness, but yelling about it doesn’t make you deep. Shallowness isn’t always a problem, especially when you’re making a film about shallow people with few concerns other than having a good time, but being boring is a problem. One of the biggest problems with Spring Breakers is that it seems to believe that if a line is worth saying once (and with this screenplay it almost never is) it’s worth saying another 30 times. One endless mid-film sequence is almost entirely constructed of James Franco repeating the line ‘Look at my shit’. He does, to be fair, manage to put a different spin on that line once, if you consider ‘look at all my shit’ to be a particular improvement.
I’m sure that people will claim that this repetition, and the frequent use of what seems to be the same sequence of beach based debauchery, is very clever; that Korine is commenting on the vapidity of spring break and the lack of intelligence and imagination in these characters. I don’t buy it, and even if that is Korine’s goal, for me he fails miserably, because all I was thinking while watch Spring Breakers was ‘please, Harmony, move on, you’ve been saying this same line for five fucking minutes, and I have a life to get back to’. This is just one of the irritating things that Korine does here, the other major one is the similarly endless deployment of the one editing trick he appears to know; cutting back and forth within scenes as if he’s using the one second time machine from The Science of Sleep in place of an AVID. This, of course, only adds to the repetitious nature of the film. During one scene, after Hudgens, Benson and Franco have sex in a pool, Korine cuts back and forth to the same bit of dialogue, advancing the scene in tiny increments, for minutes on end. It is unspeakably boring.
The other thing we’re supposed to find clever is the casting of squeaky clean Disney stars Hudgens, Benson and Gomez in the leads. It might work better if I were more aware of them, but being that I’m not a teenage girl, I only know of them vaguely because, frankly, I find it hard to believe you can follow pop culture on the internet and not know, say, Selena Gomez’ name. As it is, the contrast is clever for about five seconds, and then it’s up to Korine and his stars to make something of it. The performances from the four leads are fine, and in fact Gomez impresses, despite a small role that is encapsulated entirely by her name (You called her Faith and she’s a Christian who you throw into a lot of debauchery, well done Harmony, you’re very clever), but Korine finds so little variety in them and so little for them to do that it hardly matters how good they are, the casting still feels like a stunt that is clever for five seconds. The only character of any real note outside the central foursome is James Franco’s Alien. Franco has been widely praised for this performance, but I found it just as grating as the rest of the film; a showy, incredibly actorly turn. I could never shake the feeling that I was watching Franco perform, rather than a character.
Spring Breakers isn’t offensive, it’s not even provocative. I wish I could find something to get worked up about. I wish the film had offended me with its leery gaze, or that it had used that gaze to comment on the way films sometimes look at attractive young women, but it falls between stalls and does neither. If it had managed to speak to me, even to offend me, I might actually have ended up giving it a higher grade, because at least then it would have meant something. As it is, this is no more than a tedious, repetitious, poorly written and directed, slog that thinks it is clever, but only ever ends up being irritating.