Is Harmony Korine’s latest just quick cuts and gratuitous T&A, or is there…gasp…actually stuff of substance to be found beneath the spent bullets and beer bongs?
I’m tempted to say that Korine is more or less the American-version of Werner Herzog, but then again, Herzog’s films make something that resembles a distinct “point,” and he’s not afraid to step outside the confines of dramatization and make a legit documentary or two. The only time Korine got close to making a “non-fiction” work was when he tried to make a movie centered wholly around him picking fights with large men and getting his ass kicked on purpose; and ultimately, he ended up too hospitalized to finish that project.
But, alike Herzog, Korine has an uncanny knack for picking apart the brutishness and vapidity and general unpleasantness of real American life, creating films that are guaranteed to make most viewers cringe, puke and shower as soon as they’re finished watching them. Of all the movies I’ve ever seen, I think “Gummo” -- Korine’s 1997 magnum opus of non sequitir nihilism -- is probably the most realistic portrait of small-town, rural life I’ve ever witnessed. There’s an unmistakable gruesomeness to everything Korine pens, it seems -- and it’s not so much because of the aesthetics that his films are so impeccably nauseating, as it is the undeniable veracity behind what he’s crafting. Like it or not, what Korine shows us is America, as it really is; warts, pimples and HIV-infected high schoolers and all.
Saying “Spring Breakers” is Korine’s most accessible film is both an accurate utterance and a brass-balled lie at the same time; yeah, compared to the rest of Korine’s oeuvre - - I will let you do your own research on indescribable “classics” such as “The Diary of Anne Frank Pt. II” and “The Devil, His Sinner and His Journey” -- the film is fairly accessible, but for your standard Johnny or Jeanie-Come-Lately off the street that’s never even heard of Korine before, “Spring Breakers” is abrasive enough to elicit a violent skin reaction. To be sure, the candy-colored, hyper-pastel, less-distorted-than-usual hideousness of the film is a far cry from the blunt trauma of “Gummo” or the frustratingly indecipherable “Mister Lonely,” but the chopped up, scrambled and laced with cocaine structure of “Spring Breakers” is still the kind of volatile cinematic mix that would lead most moviegoers into convulsions.
So, what is “Spring Breakers” about, exactly? Well, it has a pretty straightforward plot, which is stretched out, discolored and generally skewed to the point where the celluloid feels like its going to burst into flames at any moment. To give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here, the first ten minutes of the film entails at least 100 exposed breasts, scenes of people firing up bongs while watching “My Little Pony” and a cameo appearance by pro wrestler Jeff Jarrett as a student minister. And after that? That’s when things start getting really kooky.
A lot of critics have taken to describing the film as “Disney Girls Gone Wild.” In general terms, I guess that’s a fitting description, but it also overlooks a lot of the film’s vague sociopolitical criticisms of American pleasure seeking. This isn’t just a film that entails bleach-blonde coeds robbing fried chicken joints and singing Brittney Spears standards outside liquor stores, it’s a film about how the hollow pursuit of hollow gains has led to American culture becoming about as hollow as a bullet-riddled balloon. By no means is Korine celebrating the unrepentant stupidity and destructively excessive lives of the people in the film; in fact, “Spring Breakers” may very well be the most Calvinistic indictment of U.S. consumer culture this side of a Fred Phelps diatribe. This is a movie about gloriously stupid people doing gloriously stupid things for gloriously stupid reasons. With equal doses of venom, this is a movie that absolutely hates the soulless bubbliness of pop-music (I suppose Korine included Skrillex and Ellie Goulding on the soundtrack to similarly mock the pseudo-intellectual, quasi-post-industrialist leanings that modern radio seems to be embracing more and more these days), U.S drug culture, hip-hop materialism, the state of higher education and the general aimlessness of the nation’s youth with a passion. “Spring Breakers” is something of an anti-satire that means precisely what it says; these people are stupid, the things they believe in are stupid, and everything about everything they like is unfathomably stupid.
Believe it or not, “Spring Breakers” might just have the most brazenly Christian-conservative ideology of any movie to come out in quite some time. In the film, Korine literally presents religiosity as a means out of encountering social ills (citing a passage from Corinthians very early in the picture, no less), with a tour bus filled with boring, staid middle-class folks serving as a vessel of Christ that redeems two of the film’s four main starlets.
At the end of the film, the other two primary characters “escape” in a Lamborghini, stolen from a gunned down drug kingpin -- played suspiciously well by rapper Gucci Mane, whose Wikipedia entry, I believe it is fair to note, features a rap sheet twice the size of his discography. The more I think about it, the more I begin to suspect that in the film, Korine is drawing up the perpetually sunny and sandy beaches of St. Petersburg, Florida -- with its nonstop debauchery and hyper-violent hoodlums coked up on consumerism and, well, actual coke -- as a metaphorical vision of hell on earth, while the boring, humdrum foothills of Kentucky represent the physical embodiment of heaven. There’s some serious sociopolitical subtext going on here; too bad most folks will be distracted by all of the gun shots and jiggling sweater puppets to note any of it.
The trifecta of disgraced/redeemed Disney starlets -- alongside Korine’s own wife, yet another benefactor of the Sherri Moon nepotistic model -- do a pretty good job of playing dense, dim, and pleasure-obsessed numbskulls. Now, I don’t know much about Selena Gomez, or Ashley Benson, or Vanessa Hudgens, but judging from their performances here? I have a hard time believing that anyone that can hop into such self-absorbed, homicidal insipidness so effortlessly can be merely acting as morons. Of special commendation is James Franco’s performance as Alien, a Riff-Raff inspired wannabe rapper that’s part Tony Montana, part Chief Keef and part gas-huffing retard down at the local Amoco; between his apoplectic walking tours in which he showcases Ninja Turtle weaponry in his bedroom to his buttery, show-stopping rendition of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” on a poolside piano, his presence as a grilled out, Kevin Federline-on-atomic-steroids is destined to become the stuff of cinematic legend.
Is “Spring Breakers” a brilliant film? A great film? A film worth your $11 hard-earned dollars? Well, I think it’s an utterly fascinating film, visually, structurally and elementally. If you ask me, there’s more stuff of value in the film’s fumes as it stretches out of a digital projector than damn near any mainstream, theatrical release shat out so far this year. It’s a movie with a merciless message about the hedonism of U.S. society -- it’s fascination with guns, it’s fascination with WorldStarHipHop violence and most certainly its fascination with escapism by utter atomization (obliteration?) of the individual through sex, drank and pursuit of the Almighty dollar. That said, most folks will probably hate the ever-loving hell out of it, either unable to detect its SLAPS values or getting sidetracked by the glittery visuals of the train derailment before them.
Those with taste buds need not stand in line for this one; but for those of you with tonsils singed off by a steady diet of bland, materialistic, American nothingness, this is one "Break" from the mediocre well worth signing up for.
Three and Half Tofu Dogs Out of Four