Review: Spring Breakers (2013)

Spring Breakers
Dir: Harmony Korine
Starring: Selena Gomez, James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson

Spring Breakers' aesthetics are somewhere between Terry Richardson chic and MTV music-video vulgarity; a meticulously designed sheen of cars, sunshine, guns, and breasts played both for voyeuristic pleasure and for savage satire. Its four stars - practically interchangeable with the exception of Gomez' dark-haired Faith - have their tanned limbs and supple young flesh bathed in honeyed light, brightly dressed in candy-coated pastel shades; like beautiful, carefully dishevelled Tumblr girls. Even their later, comedic scene in pink balaclavas seems over-determined to appear hiply iconoclastic; their pretty surfaces are fashionably of-the-moment. Early in the film, one of the girls sensuously rubs a wad of cash, saying, "Seeing all this money makes my p*ssy wet!" If you could call this an ethos, then that may well be the ethos of Spring Breakers' protagonists. Their aggressive narcissism, sexual fixation on violence, and the superficial pathos the girls repetitively indulge in - speaking in constant cliches, as if they'd collectively never had an original thought - all point toward Korine's deeply pessimistic view of American youth, of the perverse intersections between sex and violence ubiquitous in our culture. Frequently mentioned is the pitiful desire to escape life through self-destruction, as if it could somehow attend to the inherent boredom and dissatisfaction of such a lobotomised existence. Undoubtedly, there is something of a self-righteous stance to this assertion; not puritanical, certainly, but one which takes the moral high ground. I can't pretend that this evident morality is clearly cut or even heavily suggested; the film remains ambiguous, which perhaps saves it from the apparent hypocrisy of condemning something whilst simultaneously enjoying the pleasures of depicting it.

Liquor, drugs, and nudity are par for the course; but the constant close-ups of bouncing and jiggling female flesh seem to shift subtly from naughty fun to, perhaps through its repetition, something repulsive; almost farcical, ridiculous. The young women aren't really characters in the proper sense; they are so vacuous that the only real traits or emotions in them seem to be ruthlessness and lust, whether it be for sex, money, or the thrill of video-game violence. Franco offers slightly more in a sleazy, darkly funny, and surprisingly empathetic turn as Alien, the drug dealer who befriends the girls. Interestingly, for a film packed with parties, arrests, and robberies, Spring Breakers has a strangely dreamy quality, as if borrowing from Sofia Coppola or Wes Anderson's disconnected, surrealistic style. Paired with its dizzying selection of flashy, vulgar edits, it only heightens the strange, somnambulant effects of the film; it's as if you haven't slept in days.

In spite of its self-reflexivity, some will argue that the film's continual objectification of women and stereotyping of African-Americans is harmful, even as satire; I can understand the viewpoint when Korine so accurately mimics the style of misogynistic, flashy media. For argument's sake, I will say that it's not necessarily telling us anything new; and that the overt lecherousness of the camera does nothing more to inform me that pop culture is morally and spiritually bankrupt. I am fully aware that many women will find the invasive, fetishistic camerawork - of the sort that divides close-up shots of body parts so frequently, it is difficult to discern what belongs to whom - hateful and disgusting. I agree, of course; I merely contend that this gratuitousness is precisely the point. It remains - to all perhaps but the poor souls whom the film is really about - a deeply unsettling portrait of contemporary youth, and how terribly it has capsized in the murky waters of amoral, corporatised, and anti-intellectual influence.


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