TIFF 2012: ‘Spring Breakers’ is a bold and subversive work from Harmony Korine
Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is a frenzied cornucopia of sex, drugs, alcohol, and neon hued imagery; further proof that the 39-year-old filmmaker continues to operate under the guise of his own dynamic form. Known for such films as Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, and Trash Humpers, Korine has at once made his most commercial film while also displaying a tangible maturity as a filmmaker – doing so in the only way he knows how.
The dynamic cast is mainly comprised of a foursome of small-town girls looking to shed their boredom and cut loose on spring break in Florida: Faith (Gomez), Brit (Benson), Candy (Hudgens), and Cotty (Rachel), Korine’s wife. Looking to score some extra cash to fund their trip, the girls knock of a diner much to the chagrin of Faith who dismisses the act at first, but eventually questions her decision to make the trip. The group fits perfectly in tandem with Korine’s trademark undermining of rules and expectations. Fans of said group should steer clear of their work here, as its run-of-the-mill premise is quickly enveloped under the weight of Korine’s aesthetic. Surprisingly, the girls actually maintain some form of power, an element that the film hammers home in congruent with the sabotaging of the narrative.
The film doesn’t really excel, however, until James Franco’s character is introduced. Franco plays Alien, a rapper/gangster who sports cornrows and is covered in tattoos. The girls, sans Faith, become enamored in Alien’s hilarious cultural preaching’s after he bails them out of jail. We grin with delight as his endless assortment of possessions is made known: blue kool-aid, shorts (any color), Scarface on repeat, etc. In a perfect world where acting awards retain some merit, Franco would own them all for this very role. Any and all others revelations regarding Franco’s performance should be experienced firsthand, it’s that special.
It’s an incendiary and poetic work bursting with energy at every turn. Viewers claiming to have the film pegged should re-think their initial prognosis as Korine continues his vintage subversion – in this case, to a near horrific degree. Some will surely dismiss the film on arrival as its stern depiction of its tweener stars reaches eyebrow-raising heights. The film quickly morphs from customary cautionary tale to a decadent satire of the “American Dream” as its stunning overtness is made present from the get-go. Skrillex plays over a Girls Gone Wild-esque opening that submerges the viewer right into the milieu of Korine’s warped universe. It’s both over-the-top and frankly outlandish: cocaine, beer bongs, and boobs are all mainstays, naturally. The wonders actually never seem to cease, as a heist scored to Britney Spears calls into focus Korine’s unrestrained assurance.
As the editing expands beyond its own repetitive nature, the film only enhances in beauty and clarity. The quartet eventually shrinks to a twosome, and the melancholy of the world is made sublime by the endless array of arresting visuals summoned by DP Benoît Debie, a frequent collaborator of Gaspar Noé (Irreversible, Enter the Void). A visual wonder, Spring Breakers has little business operating at such a high level, as it escalates into one of, if not the most prosperous offering of 2012.
– Ty Landis