You can't help but feel that Harmony Korine's fourth feature as director is a "20 years later" rejoinder to his breakthrough script for Larry Clark's epochal Kids. That is, another warts-and-all take on modern youth mores, following the adventures of four college co-eds over a drug-and-alcohol-fueled spring break binge in Florida, another "state of the union" address on "do you know what YOUR kids are doing?". Spring Breakers is that in a way, picking up on the idea of unsupervised teenagers out on their own devices, but also projecting it into a part-euphoric, part-melancholy meditation on the rite of passage, with its four heroines - Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) - literally going through the fire.

     However, instead of Mr. Clark's gritty urban-indie handling, Mr. Korine opts to go at it as a mash-up between a raucous teenage comedy in the American Pie/Project X mold and an expletive-laced satire of modern pop culture (the director's default mode ever since his directorial debut with the severely over-rated Gummo), with this spring break designed as a now-or-never shot at escaping the confines of a boxed-in college life into a neon fantasy of reality-show-level fame and fortune. With the help of master cinematographer Benoît Debie's over-saturated, fluorescent day-glo lensing and a driving electronic score marrying Electronic Dance Music star Skrillex's frenzied beats and Cliff Martinez' pulsing textures, Mr. Korine paints an alluring paradise of full-on hedonism that comes straight out of the girls' dreams of video-game muggings or Hollywood stardom, only to smash it down in the next moment as a fever dream with a heavy price tag.

     The irony is compounded by his casting of wholesome Disney Channel stars Ms. Gomez and Ms. Hudgens and soap regular Ms. Benson. The last two and Ms. Korine (the director's wife) play pretty much interchangeable blonde bimbos (only not as airheaded as they might seem at first glance), with Mr. Gomez as the brown-haired ingenue-slash-conscience of the lot, the one whose religious faith crashed headlong into the dark side of the lavish hedonistic lifestyle they're enjoying in St. Petersburg. That dark side comes up big time once low-rent drug dealer and aspiring rapper Alien (an inspired James Franco, as much a wannabe as the girls) shows up on the scene, a Big Bad Wolf that seduces the three blondes into joining him in his attempt at becoming king of the St. Pete streets (but for whom the reluctant Faith, a brown-haired Red Riding Hood if there was ever one, becomes the one that got away).

     In his usually provocative way, Mr. Korine raises more questions than he's ready or willing to answer (or answers them the wrong way). But neither is he interested in white-washing this amoral youthquake of girls who just want to have fun and are ready to disregard blithely the rules of the real world for its sake; there's a strangely grounded moral (or moralistic?) streak to Spring Breakers, as the film is presented in a way as a cautionary fairy tale in the "be-careful-what-you-wish-for" mode, while at the same time admitting that such caution sits uneasily in our media-obsessed times, where gangster behaviour has become pervasive in pop culture. Is Mr. Korine wanting to have his cake and eat it too? Possibly. That ambiguity is constantly present by design in his work, only much better hidden in this, undoubtedly my favourite (and, more arguably, the best) of his four features. You can even mistake it for the real thing, a foul-mouthed, transgressively (a)moral equivalent of American Pie. But whether you do or not, you'll be leaving the theatre with a tangy, sour taste on your candy-floss mouth.

Cast: James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Gucci Mane
Director and writer: Harmony Korine
Cinematography: Benoît Debie (colour, widescreen)
Music: Cliff Martinez, Skrillex
Designer: Elliott Hostetter
Costumes: Heidi Bivens
Editor: Douglas Crise
Producers: Chris Hanley, Jordan Gertner, David Zander, Charles-Marie Anthonioz (Hero Entertainment, Muse Productions, Rabbit Bandini Productions and Radar Pictures in association with MJZ, O'Salvation, Pop Films, Division Film and Iconoclast)
USA/France, 2012, 93 minutes

Screened: IndieLisboa Film Festival 2013 Observatory screening, São Jorge 1 (Lisbon), April 25th 2013


Popular Posts