Spring Breakers (2013)

Written & Directed by Harmony Korine

I feel that I am at a distinct disadvantage going into this film just by default. For one, it is a party movie. I don’t like party movies, despite being the target demographic: single, male, 24. The glorification of debauchery is offensive to me when done like the abominable Project X. Even when it involves decent comedy, like The Hangover or Old School, my reaction seems mild at best compared to many others. The other disadvantage, or at least it sounds that way from what I have read of the film thus far, is my inexperience with writer/director Harmony Korine and his previous work. Context always helps to place a film, but you have to start somewhere, and at the end of the day, a film must be judged by itself.

What Korine has done with this party film is attempt to do something that will highlight the pop culture of the current American teenage scene by following four young girls on the Spring Break. Faith (Selena Gomez) is the good girl, the Christian who has become bored and is looking to escape. So when her friends (Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine) find out they don’t have enough money to go on spring break, to escape their mundane lives in Kentucky, they rob a restaurant and off they go to the shores of St Petersburg, Florida. After fun is had, the group soon falls in with a drug dealing rapper named Alien (James Franco), who serenades them with piano, money and guns. Things become increasingly dangerous, and they soon find themselves running home, getting shot, and doing things they would have never imagined back at school in boring Kentucky.

Before things get out of hand with this review, let me make this statement: this is satire. What Harmony Korine is doing here is far for glorifying promiscuous sex, excessive drug and alcohol consumption, and doing otherwise lewd acts that would land anybody in jail if observed by the authorities. He is in fact condemning it, which right off the bat seems like the kind of film I might like to see. But the way in which it is constructed becomes frustrating and messy. The biggest problem is the vacuous plot, a narrative that has little really going for it. It becomes mindless and repetitious, which is a shame for a film with the ambition to say quite a bit. It doesn’t have to be the greatest story ever told if it means at social commentary, but at least something would have been nice.

The casting is a bit of a stroke of genius, bringing in a set of actresses with a wholesome image in the media to play a set of girls with nothing better than sex, beer, and apparently violence on their minds. It is a melding of pop culture references, blurring the line between the good and the bad of what is popular to our people in this country, it brings together those two seemingly conflicting principles in perfect amounts. Add on James Franco and perhaps the strongest aspect of the film is its cast. Franco, whose turn as the great and powerful Oz earlier this year was about as flat as I’ve seen Franco, gives what could possibly be the performance of his career as the ridiculous drug dealer who thinks he is from outer space. As bizarre as the role may be, I think Franco and Franco alone could have pulled it off. Alien also highlights what this film really is, a comedy.

The satire is done in such a way that the viewer quite easily recognizes it, though I am worried that people may have expectations for the film which conflict with what Korine is going for; they may find themselves in for something they never expected, which will certainly alienate a good many viewers and cause the film to have very mixed reactions. As I experienced the film in the theater I myself was quite conflicted. I cannot say that while I was watching it was I particularly enjoying the experience, and in fact shortly after I had determined the film, while having something to say, didn’t particularly say it very well. It wasn’t quite the type of trash I was expecting, but still trash nonetheless. However, the film has stayed with me a bit, and intruded my psyche since I saw it. It has piqued my curiosity to others thoughts on the film, on the party movie genre in general. It has staying power and the more I have reflected on the film, the more lasting it becomes. I still have a struggle of inner conflict in terms of my reaction to the film, but this might be a messterpiece; a film that is undoubtedly messing in its construction, but also one that picks the pieces up and has enough to say to perhaps even become a seminal work in the genre. Such a situation can only mean that whatever score I post to this review could change, and change drastically over time. I’m not even sure if this can be rated.

*** – Very Good

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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