Korine Harmony is known mostly for writing Kids and directing Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy and Trash Humpers. His films have been called original, risky, brilliant, grotesque; certainly they are not meant to be pleasant. Some argue they provide valuable social critiques, while others dismiss them as mere agents of shock-factor.
Spring Breakers has catapulted Harmony into the spotlight. Featuring James Franco and ex-Disney starlets Vanessa Hudgeons and Selena Gomez, the movie has massive public appeal. But those with little knowledge of Harmony’s track record expecting a feel-good, drunken teen adventure are in for a rude shock. Spring Breakers is disturbing, often grotesque and difficult to watch.
A group of college girls are desperate to go on spring break for a change of scene and a chance to party. They rob a restaurant and amass enough cash to go to Florida. There, we witness scenes of college kids’ uncensored, gritty partying. The girls indulge in all the same activities, ending up in jail and unable to pay bail. The usually delectable James Franco stars as the seedy and revolting Alien, who springs the girls out. The rest of the movie descends into ominous disarray, spiralling out of control.
There’s no doubt Harmony critiques society in this raunchy, neon-lit film. Just as in Kids, he looks at the romanticized image of drugs, sex and weapons and the alarming consequences of their falling into the wrong (in this case, adolescent) hands. The veil of glamour created by video games, music videos and movies is lifted. What’s left is an uncomfortable mishmash of misogyny, power trips and moral vacancy. Even the throngs of naked bodies are desexualised by unfiltered, zoomed-in footage that the audience is forced to swallow, leaving us with a taste of repulsion rather than desire.
Selena Gomez’s hyped-up role is a lot less impressive and important than expected. She doesn’t stray too far form her goody-two shoes image, save for the fact that she features in the film at all. Hudgeons who, on the other hand, has had her virginal, Disney star image in question since 2008 and more accurately missing since her break up with Efron, departs from it altogether, slipping into her role with perceptible ease.
Still, the acting on the part of the girls is far from arresting. The cheesy script doesn’t help them, but it does serve to emphasize what happens when the wrong people take Hollywood too seriously and blur the lines between reality and fiction. The repetition of certain key phrases is a little overdone at times, making the stylisation feel a little forced but the overall use of sound and lighting effectively sucks in the audience.
Though it’s been launched by star power, this somewhat art-house film is a disturbing ride, bound to stir up conversation and definitely worth a watch – a summary I’m sure Harmony would happily approve of.