TIFF 2012: ‘Spring Breakers’ purposefully veers off its own rails

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Spring Breakers
Written by Harmony Korine
Directed by Harmony Korine
USA, 2012

One of the more highly publicized entries in this year’s festival thanks to the Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy director Harmony Korine’s instantly notorious casting of bubblegum sensations Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson, Spring Breakers is a part-comedy, part-horror, part-cautionary tale – like Scarface meets The Real Cancun. Four particularly impressionable teens escape to an exaggerated version of St. Petersburg, Florida to cut loose on the beach during Spring Break, eventually meeting a hustler called Alien (James Franco) who changes their lives.

For our establishing plunge in to this world Korine thrusts us headlong in to a heedless, animalistic rut – a reservoir of excess sexual energy and booze – not unlike the comparatively tame but similarly intentioned Spring Break content broadcast annually on MTV. This unforgiving sequence of unsupervised youth’s media-cultivated behavior, insignificantly triumphant sexism and enthusiastic self-objectification, is brought back frequently to provide morphing thematic reference within the wild narrative, alongside simultaneously haunting and hilarious recalls and flash-forwards of pertinent dialogue and imagery.

The presentation relents so little, one cannot help but fear (more than usual) for the state of contemporary morality. Considering this it is in turn an ideal lure for the type of demographic that may find interest in such events as that depicted. For this very reason one can presume the aforementioned castings were made, which is not to discredit the celebrities’ real-world context being brought to the production to bolster their characters’ thorough deflowering.

Enter the Franco. In what could be his boldest and most humorous turn yet, the increasingly relevant actor does bring the film to levels of extreme absurdity that may not at first seem directly in tune with the then-established trajectory, but that are difficult to argue against for how giddily juxtaposed their values of entertainment and terror become. The same media that seems to influence the simulated beach orgy also seems to directly create the drug-fueled, firearm-happy, über materialist mentalities fueling the self-appointed embodiment of the American Dream.

For as contextually deviant as these developments appear, they make for the picture’s best sequences – a prideful exposé of possessions, a machine gun-adorned Britney Spears piano ballad and a highly unexpected finale that boasts perhaps the most memorable visuals. Said visuals appear largely credit to the cinematographic genius of Gaspar Noé collaborator Benoît Debie, whose popping use of color and balance of precision, improvisation and distortion lend perfectly to the material and its potent aura.

Though surprising in its sensibly high production value, Spring Breakers does fit well in Korine’s filmography of beautifully raw and enlighteningly disturbing observational pieces, even if it does rapidly grow more and more preposterous as its characters move from aspirations of assimilation to ones of new, if manipulated, individualism. The piece does occasionally feel as though it’s abandoned its presumed original intentions, though this is not to say the honestly fitting abandonment is not an acceptable and undeniably memorable one that will surely mature with favor upon further reflection.

– Tom Stoup

Learn more about Spring Breakers at TIFF 2012 here and the Toronto International Film Festival here.

1 Comment
  1. stalepie says

    Nice review! Thanks!

    Where did that rumor come from that Janusz Kaminski shot this? A joke I was too stiff to get?

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