Essays/Articles / Film Reviews

REVIEW: ‘Spring Breakers’ (2012) dir. Harmony Korine


Ashley Benson, James Franco and Vanessa Hudgens in ‘Spring Breakers’

I finally watched Spring Breakers after being told it was terrible by almost everyone I asked. Maybe about five minutes in I figured at least half of those people must have disliked it because they expected a party movie and then got a Harmony Korine film.

Even without addressing the content of the film I think it’s a clever move on Korine’s part to market this film as a mainstream, commercialized party movie and then stuff it full of social commentary and meaning. I think it could easily be interpreted as glamorizing an extreme version of what you usually see in party films, complete with machine gun shoot ups, but I rather take the view that the film’s aim is to take the situation to an extreme and present it in a way that is perfectly normal in order to open up questions and conversations about where exactly youth sub-cultures are headed.

Probably my favourite aspect of the film was the way in which Korine used the girls’ conversations with their families in voice over, completely unaligned with the images being shown on screen so that is was entirely obvious (if it wasn’t already) that this was all behind the backs of the older generation. There was a lot of talk of ‘this moment’ throughout the film, and freezing time, and it seemed like that was another way of communicating how specifically relevant the content of the film is to the young generation of today.

The film as a whole could easily be described as self-obsessed. It’s very much focused on individuals, it perhaps takes itself too seriously, but I’m not sure I mind too much; all that that did for me was reinforce again that it’s not ‘just a party film’. Lack of a solid plot is not something that puts me off a film, but in my opinion there are points in the middle of the film where it becomes slightly boring, and then falls into the ‘pretentious’ category, as if Korine was suddenly trying too hard to make sure his audience knew it wasn’t ‘just a party film’. These moments are few and far between, though, and only noticeable when I forced myself to step back and evaluate it. It would have been all too easy to just let myself be carried away in the flow of the film.

The cinematography is beautiful. Even amongst slightly dull or pretentious scenes you get weirdly wonderful images that capture your attention again. The scene with James Franco playing the Britney Spears song on the piano with the girls around him in pink balaclavas, bikinis and holding machine guns against an almost too-red sky creates a striking image that lends a kind of other-worldly essence to an otherwise fairly naturalistic scenario. Elsewhere in the film, particularly at the beginning, you get these wonderful close-up shots that soften and sharpen and don’t remain static, which just emphasizes the way in which the situation and the characters themselves are in no way clean cut; it’s a little rough and it gets messy at points but there’s always that certain weird, unexpected beauty within it.

There’s a lot to be said about this film from a feminist perspective. I think the whole film could be read as a struggle for power, for sexual freedom, for the girls’ individuality. Franco’s character is aggressive and violent and it’s interesting to see the way in which he influences the girls; at the beginning of the movie when the girls are in charge of themselves and there’s no one telling them what to do they show a level of violence and aggression on a par with Franco’s, but once taken under his wing (which itself gives a suggestion of ownership in the film: he bails them out of jail and so they owe him, as if he has bought them directly from the prison) they become more of a giggling chorus, using guns only in sexual games, having their individuality stripped away by the pink balaclavas. They only return to freedom and control over themselves once they have killed Franco.

Overall i was pleasantly surprised. Spring Breakers is the worst party movie I have ever seen, for sure, but for something with much more depth and especially something thought provoking for further discussion, the film is an excellent choice.

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