I walked out of an opening night matinee of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers into the first true sunny day of Vancouver spring with a big ol’ grin stretching ‘cross my face. When he penned the uncompromising script for Larry Clark’s Kids at age 19, Harmony Korine showed an uncanny ability to distill the sexual energies and metaphysical confusion of 90s youth into filmic language. Now, at age 40, with what is arguably his first “mainstream” film Spring Breakers, he shows that his connection to the frenetic pulse of media-saturated, over-sexed, coming-of-age teenagers is as relevant as when he was one of them. Though his approach is now more voyeuristic than immersive with its warm lights, dripping soundscapes, and pretty, pretty girls.
Disney princesses Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens meld sensuously together with Pretty Little Liars‘ Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine (partner to Harmony) to take on the bacchanalian of Spring Break with as much violence and sex as they can muster. They rarely wear more than bikinis (and often wear less). Hudgens and Benson are the uncontested leaders, and Korine holds her own as proverbial party monster; but the religious Gomez is ultimately overwhelmed and unsettled by their debauchery. For Gomez, Spring Break is a coming-of-age journey, but her child-like philosophizing about “finding herself” and “finally being who she really is” prompts kindhearted but condescending snickers from Hudgens and Benson, who are after something much bigger than sex, drugs, and self-awakening.
Enter Alien, played with astounding fearlessness by James Franco. Always an actor to make bold choices, Franco buries himself in the role of the dreadlocked, silver-grilled hustler and hip hop artist Alien, who is very much, as he says, “not from this planet”. All the intelligence, good-looks, and charm that we know Franco possesses are disappeared into the preening, simple-minded, powerfully-creepy presence of Alien. He provides an outlet for the girls’ insatiable hunger for more and finds his own fears and desires actualized in his relationship with them.
What starts off as a wild road-trip movie quickly turns into something less defined. The editing keeps folding back in on itself, both anticipating what is to come and replaying what has already happened. We are rarely in one place for too long, experiencing most of the film either in retrospect or as premonition. It’s part sexploitation, part ethereal art-film. It’s like seeing the Hunter S. Thompson-like depravity of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meet the playful and pretty existentialism of Vera Chitlová’s Daisies (a sublime 1966 Czech New Wave film), subtracting all of Chitlová’s feminism, then adding Skrillex and sub-machine guns to the mix; the film is chaotic, titillating, and beautiful.
Spring Breakers is an experience unto itself (and is nothing like its trailer suggests it will be). It’s a dream. A terrifying, beautiful dream. And like a little-known pop singer once said, “It’s haunting me.”
Rating: 4.5 stars. (Scotiabank Theatre, Vancouver. 1st viewing.)
“And everytime I see you in my dreams / I see your face, it’s haunting me.” ~Britney Spears