Winter break is coming up soon and I’ll be able to catch up on new releases! Taking a breather between working on my last final projects, I found the time to finally watch one of the year’s more controversial films about a different school vacation time on Amazon Instant Video, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. The response to the film has been divided to say the least: some have been praising it as one of the year’s best films, others found it offensive and exploitative, and still others (usually in dramatic declarations of “WORST MOVIE EVER” on Twitter and in one-star Amazon ratings) seem to be upset it’s not the exploitation film they were hoping for.
After all that hype, my ultimate reaction to the film is that it’s… OK? I’m really not sure what to think of this movie. It’s not the “WORST MOVIE EVER” and the way it pissed off the lowest common denominator so much only makes me want to love it more than I do. As for the more serious criticisms, the allegations of racism and sexism, I understand there’s a discussion to be had about the effectiveness of satire and the responsibilities of a filmmaker representing attitudes and behaviors without condoning them, but to deny the movie is satirizing racist and sexist attitudes seems to me to be misreading the movie entirely. On the subject of race in particular the movie is clearly grappling with concerns about cultural appropriation (it’s no coincidence that the girls’ spring break starts with them literally robbing a black man).
That robbery scene, initially glanced only through the windows of a fast food joint, is one of a few moments in the film I can call truly brilliant filmmaking. The “Look at my sheeyit!” monologue, which plays like a comedic take on The Great Gatsby, is another, and if the campaign to get Franco a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the “gangster mystic” white rapper Alien succeeds, it’ll be because of that scene. Best of all is the montage of dancing with machine guns and slow motion crime sprees in pink unicorn ski-masks set to a sing-along piano rendition of Brittany Spears’ “Everytime.”
Those moments of genius take up only 10-15 minutes of the movie, though, and my big problem with much of the rest of the movie is that it’s strangely pretty boring. Pretty, for sure; the neon-drenched cinematography is incredible. But still pretty boring. On a certain level I get that this is by design: by showing the sex-and-drugs spring break culture as repetitive and monotonous, it does a good job killing whatever allure it might have. But to what end? To me it never looked appealing to start with, and to those already involved in that world I doubt they’re going to learn anything from the movie.
Ty Burr’s review in the Boston Globe noted this movie is essentially the dark side of a movie like Superbad. That comparison might be the clue to figuring out who this movie is for. The kids in Superbad are fairly intelligent and articulate, yet are drawn to the hard partying scene mainly out of social pressure. Maybe that’s who Spring Breakers is for: high school seniors who might just need a challenging, sporadically entertaining art film to put them on the right path. If only the characters in Spring Breakers were as compelling, the experience might be more enjoyable for the rest of us. Only Alien and Selena Gomez’s Christian girl Faith are fleshed out as distinctive characters, and both of them have relatively limited screentime (Alien only enters the movie halfway through, and Faith leaves shortly after). I guess Ashley Benson’s Brit might be a little more psychotic than the rest, but other than that it’s hard to even tell the spring breakers apart. I get the sense that Harmony Korine is a talented director, and the moments where his ideas are able to blossom are awesome, but I get the sense he might be better off with a different screenwriter who could strengthen those ideas.