Spring Breakers


High art? Low stunt? Harmony Korine takes us on a wild ride...

"Girls with butts," notes indie auteur Harmony Korine,stating the obvious as he pauses in his commentary to observe a particularly booty-centricshot. 

Minutes later, he’s comparing the shapes of bodies to sculpture and art installations, the lighting to poetry. 

Minutes later again, he talks about replicating the pop-culture rush of video games, sample-based music, loop-based music and drug trips; minutes later still, he’s singling out themes of religion and race.

All of which tells us that, if the Kids (1995) writer and Gummo(1997) provocateur’s fifth film as director is a mainstream move, thenit’s a mainstream move of his own hypnotic, hyper-real making.

Sure, its parade of beach bods behaving badly on spring break seems market-geared after the OAP madness of his lo-fi last film, Trash Humpers (2009).

Especially as the women with wee bikinis and big guns here are Disney’s Selena Gomez andVanessa Hudgens (plus Ashley Benson and Korine’s wife, Rachel Korine).

But, as David Fincher said of Fight Club, “The realact of sedition is not to do the $3m version, it’s to do the big version.” 

Breakers isn’t that big, but it’s the glossiestexample yet of Korine’s mission to find the weird and wild in the low-brow and ludicrous.

Korine loves an eyebrow-raising juxtaposition, and he goes for it right off the bat. 

Opening shots of beach bods bouncing to Skrillex’s pumping score slide into lush lecture-hall scenes. A girl mimes fellatio with a hand-drawn cock during racial history class. Bible class is led by a wrestler whose biceps and verbiage (“Are you jacked-up on Jesus?”)are surely profane. 

Good girl Faith’s (Gomez) Christian sing-song is heard over the sightof another girl imbibing whisky from the squirt gun: the sacred and thesalacious merged into a crossfire of competing influences.

This isn’t subtle or new: youth movies often straddle the innocence/experiencedivide, where a hunger fordefining experiences finds characters wrestling with tough choices.

Yet Korine attacks familiar ground with juiced-up style. The vacation premise gives him licence to take flight from reality. His characters exist in a pop-culture-drenched world so unreal that its presiding deity is Britney Spears.

Cinematographer Benoît Debie previously lensed Gaspar Noé’s neon wig-out Enter The Void(2009); he unleashes more woozy trippiness here, whether he’s shooting stained-glass windows or beer-bathed breasts.

Scenes loop and overlap in what Korine’s commentary calls a “liquid narrative”. The combo of whispery voiceovers and luminous images resembles Terrence Malick on a bender. 

Repeated motifs takeon darker meanings with each passing scene: hands first convey tenderness, then bloodied threat; the mantra “Spring... breeeeak... foreeeva” sounds hypnotic, then horrible as the end approaches.

That slipperiness also extends to the characters, primarily in the case of James Franco’s nutso performance as corn-rowed “cosmic gangster” Alien.  A madcap mirror to Korine’s broad riffs on the American dream’smyth of self-creation, Alien is a hard man to pin down. 

Showing off his “sheeyit” in one ridiculous and grotesque set-piece, his sleazy menace looks almost naïve and infantile. Elsewhere, he claims tobe from another planet and calls himself variously “gangster... money... your chauffeur... a nightmare... the Death Star... bad...” – even, in one jaw-dropping claim, “nice”.

This one-man play on surfaces makes Alien look like Korine’s stand-in, especially when he holds his hands like a camera and frames the four women through the invisible lens.

But Korine undercuts that sense of voyeurism by taking the women’s side. They aren’t deep characters, true, and you might wonder if you’re watching Piranha 3D when Korine makes sure to dip the camera under the swimming pool surface for a pervy peek.

But he doesn’t mock or judge: Korine grants them control and dignity, to a degree. Gomez’s Faith generates poignancy despite her “almost corny purity”, as Korine describes it on the commentary.

When Rachel Korine’s Cotty does lewd things among frat boys at a party, Korine dodges the cliché that sexual assault might follow, refusing to see her implicitly “punished”.

Where does this leave us? Korine keeps us guessing beyond the climax, a dizzying remix of Grand Theft Auto and Miami Vice

It’s stupidly entertaining but, somewhat knowingly, too crackers for catharsis, too troubling to titillate and too open-ended for closure. 

“I never wanted anything to be too comfortable, too settled,” he says on the commentary, the best DVD extra alongside a 25-minute Making Of and some bikini-skimpy featurettes (BD extras were unavailable at press time).

Firing “squirt guns” at the mainstream and jiggling its butt at the highbrow,Spring Breakers succeeds on those sun-dazed-and-confused terms.

Profound it isn’t, but Korine’s art-trash take on teenage kicks is too potent and, in its wayward fashion, purposeful to dismissas a stunt.

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