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Posted March 29, 2013 by William Dunmyer in Avant-Garde
 
 

Spring Breakers: A Disaster

I never would have believed Harmony Korine capable of making a boring film. But lo and behold, his new film “Spring Breakers” is just that. Incredibly boring. It has almost no content, almost no script, laughable acting, as well as repetitious and dull direction. This is a complete dud. It really makes one wonder about Korine. Perhaps he’s losing his creativity — and his ideas.

It grieves me to say that because in 2008 (after seeing his magical, mystical, bizarrely overlooked film “Mister Lonely”) I was saying that Korine was a genius and America’s greatest filmmaker. My hunch is that he is still a genius (one never loses that) but that he is losing his instinct for the cinematic medium. Or losing faith in the medium?

I honestly suspect that Korine was crushed (disillusioned?) by the fact that “Mister Lonely” was appreciated by almost no one. I feel that experience may have, at least on some levels, made him bitter and caused him to stop pushing himself. His films since then, “Trash Humpers” and “Spring Breakers” (note the similarity in the titles), have been so bad as to be disastrous — almost intentionally so.

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“Spring Breakers” looks like it was conceived 20 years ago: a parody of the nihilistic strain in American youth culture at that time. The film is so 1993. It especially sets its sights on white students from third-rate colleges glutting on Gangsta Rap and flooding to Florida in the spring to show off their taut bodies. There they revel in Budweiser-fueled debauchery. Beer bongs! Shots!

The opening sequence of actual spring breakers is the most valuable part of the film. It only lasts about two minutes, but I found it unforgettable. There you can see Korine’s masterful eye for capturing American emptiness. His use of slow-motion there was sublime, as was the music.

After this opening, we meet our protagonists: four female students at an unnamed mediocre college. Any College in Anywhere, USA. These colleges all look the same, and all the students look the same, trying hard to get their degrees without ever learning anything. Trying to find a way to get a good grade without reading a book. College students who loathe learning. There’s something distinctively American about that, is there not?

One of the girls is somewhat different (the one played by Selena Gomez). She is Christian, not white, and she appears to have a moral compass in fairly good working order. She doesn’t perfectly fit in with the other girls, and that will factor into the story lately.

The girls’ chief goal is to save up enough money to go to Florida together for spring break. They fail. What to do? Commit a crime. I won’t give away the details of the crime, but I will say that this is the second-best sequence in the film. Korine films it in an innovative way, and it is disturbing. Watching pretty all-American girls slip down the rabbit hole of depravity is gripping, disturbing cinema. It’s in moments like this that you see the old Korine, with his extraordinary power to reveal American social rot with just a glance of the camera.

The girls get to Florida, and the debauchery begins. Korine pulls no punches. The way these white-bread kids raised in suburban shopping malls defile themselves and destroy hotel rooms is nauseating.

When the girls get arrested on minor charges, they are bailed out by a drug dealer and rapper, played by James Franco in a ridiculous, over-the-top performance that doesn’t work at all. It reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix’s nearly-career-destroying performance as himself in “I’m Still Here” (2010). It’s so bad that you can’t even laugh. Korine has always been at his worst when trying to do comedy. His instinct for tragedy is superb; his sense of comedy is among the worst I’ve ever seen.

Why didn’t Korine hire Woody Allen to play this role? He would have gotten the same result. It’s so bad that it was honestly hard to look at the screen. I really feel for Franco. He’s not a great actor by any means, but he is trying to do meaningful work. He probably trusted Korine completely. At times it seemed Korine was trying to humiliate Franco.

But worst of all, the Franco character is just boring. One girl leaves, but the three remaining ones join his posse and become stand-out killers. By this time, the emptiness and repetitiousness of the story have become overwhelming, and I’m sure that few in the audience were even watching the screen.

But there was one worthwhile sequence in the second half of the film. Franco and the girls are in his back yard at night. He is playing piano and singing a Britney Spears song. The actual Spears song then takes over the soundtrack, and we watch the girls caress assault rifles and sawed-off shotguns while wearing pink ski-masks — again in slow motion. Something about those pink ski-masks was powerful. We’re used to seeing male sociopaths in cinema. Seeing pretty young girls in this role is bracing.

But three or four good sequences (a total of 10 minutes of screen time) aren’t enough to hold up a film. Ninety-five percent of “Spring Breakers” is atrociously bad and plain-old boring.

 


William Dunmyer

 
William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.