Crazy Monsters and Scary Sprites

SB official cz.jpg from Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

While watching Spring Breakers, it’s very easy to see Harmony Korine behaving in a fashion similar to James Franco’s character Alien in the film by shouting at the audience (taking off from a (sort of) iconic monologue from Alien):

“Look at my shit! Look at this shit y’all! I got-I got bikinis, every motherfucking color! I got machine guns, AK-47s in the house! James Franco, rolling round in them cornrow grills, CORNROW GRILLS! Vanessa Hudgens actin’ all slutty y’all! Disney be fuming in the MOUSE HOUSE!”

You get the idea. But I wonder whether Korine would ever tell us to look at his story because it gets lost behind all the visually kaleidoscopic pizzazz and the hyperactive craziness of it all. And yet the pure fuck-you attitude Korine channels grabs you by the balls and never lets go. I actually got a hard-on watching it.

Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Hudgens and Rachel Korine play four bored college girls searching for a life changing experience to quell their boredom. They yearn to join the hordes of college students engaging in all kinds of debauchery in Florida during spring break, but they don’t have enough money. So they decide to rob a diner, and do it with pink backpacks and mini shorts. After heading over to St. Petersburg and having spiritual endeavors like getting drunk and grinding on guys and snorting coke off other naked girls (quite the hard R film), the girls get arrested, and get promptly bailed out by Alien (“My real name’s Allen, but, truth be told, I ain’t from this planet y’all.”). Oh, and then things become about Franco’s relationship with his gangster mentor and there’s a turf war, but Korine isn’t really interested in that.

This is one of the most pulsating and electrifying movies you will watch all year, but it has the emotional resonance of a Skrillex concert.

It’s easy to see what Korine is doing with the girls onscreen: everyone has a dark side, even cute young women who skip around in bikinis and adlib Britney Spears songs at random. Only Gomez is given some kind of a backstory, while Hudgens and Benson are surprisingly menacing as the fearless and violent duo of the group: look at the scene where they get Franco to fellate his own guns or when they re-enact their robbery. These girls are aware of the meta-ramifications of their roles and go all the way with shedding their family-friendly Disney celebrity images.

And yet what is Korine finally saying with these young women: is Spring Breakers feminist in the way the women come out high and dry in the end and are stronger than the gangsters they encounter, or is it anti-feminist in all the sexually explicit imagery and debauchery that all the girls engage in during the party season? Or is it exploitative in how it subverts the good-girls-gone-bad plot and turns it into a bored-girls-gone-bad-and-then-maybe-turn-good? Or is the bikini chicks-with-guns imagery just to get dicks in seats? Korine gives us no answers.

And then there is Franco, doing his own bravura performance and lifting the film to another level of trashy cool. Alien brings to mind a wilder and badass version of Saul from Pineapple Express, had he come from Florida and grown up with rap and gangsters. He treads the fine line between bohemian and cockroach, with scrawls for tattoos and dreadlocks that seem to be carefully attended to when we’re not looking at him. His rapper drawl is an invitation to roam the neon streets of Florida in the dark and do the wrong thing (here’s his inspiration for the role).

But with him again, Korine remains ambiguous as to who he really is. Why did he bail out the girls in the first place? He clearly doesn’t want to have sex with them immediately, and he even lets them leave if they want to (when this happens, it feels like when contestants exit Survivor). Maybe it’s for companionship, or for a sexy entourage, but Korine doesn’t care.

Andrew O’Hehir in his review said: Is making something that is pointless and incoherent as an aesthetic choice somehow superior to doing so because you don’t know better? In practice, is there any difference?” There isn’t any, and what it comes down to is Korine playing around with these trashy elements sans a grand design. The provocativeness of the material coupled with the unique visual language of the film makes for an interesting visual experience, but it’s provocative to get people to watch it. This is one of the most pulsating and electrifying movies you will watch all year, but it has the emotional resonance of a Skrillex concert. The cool rhythm stays, but when there are no lyrics, does it really matter? 

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