Spring Breakers (A24, R)

film spring-breakers_75It’s rated R, and thoroughly unwholesome. And there’s more.

 

 

film spring-breakers_500

It has long made me happy when big stars appear in roles or movies that are potentially offensive and unlike their usual work—see Tom Cruise in Magnolia, Julia Roberts in Closer, etc.—where you can just imagine their regular fan base showing up and getting all upset. Although you can spot it from a mile away, we now have what might be the new king in this subset of films, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, which stars Disney queens Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical), Ashley Benson (Pretty Little Liars), and Selena Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place), as well as Harmony’s wife Rachel Korine, plus James Franco (who is still in theaters with the family hit Oz the Great and Powerful) and rapper Gucci Mane. It’s rated R, and thoroughly unwholesome. And there’s more.

But first, do you remember Harmony Korine? He’s best known for being the dude who wrote the screenplay to the notorious 1995 Larry Clark film Kids (which, you may recall, caused a serious rift between Disney and Harvey Weinstein, right after Disney bought Weinstein’s Miramax—maybe Spring Breakers is Korine’s way of sticking it to them after all these years), but since then, he’s made a series of incredibly divisive art films, most of which I like, but which are far from universally adored: 1997’s Gummo, 1999’s Julien Donkey-Boy, 2007’s Mister Lonely, and 2009’s Trash Humpers. (Yes, his most recent feature film is called Trash Humpers, and is actually about people who, among other things, hump trash cans.) And now he’s working with Disney princesses.

And here’s whopper number one: This is Korine’s movie. It does not feel at all like anything Hudgens, Benson, or Gomez have done before (and remember to factor in that Hudgens has been trying to shake her good girl image for some time; she was in the godawful Zack Snyder movie Sucker Punch, among other things), but it feels quite a bit like, well, Trash Humpers. Korine has long liked to film naked people gyrating in slow motion (this goes back to his directorial debut, Gummo, and he even found a way to work it into the otherwise mostly straightforward documentary David Blaine: Above the Below), which is how Spring Breakers starts. It isn’t long before our teen superstars are hitting bongs, doing lines of coke off of naked extras, and miming giving a blowjob.

If you’re reading this review right now because you think Gomez, Hudgens, and/or Benson are hot, and you’re hoping to see them naked, or at least in bikinis a lot, you’re likely to be disappointed. In fact, it seems like most people who might think they want to see this movie will be disappointed, which is part of the reason why I liked it so much. (About the only people who seem likely to be happy with it are longtime Harmony Korine fans, who thereby know what they’re getting into.)

Of course, anyone who’s drawn to the movie because they like Hudgens’ or Gomez’s past work are sure to be horrified, but the horndogs hoping to see some teenage skin will probably be thrown by how avant garde this movie is—the plot veers toward nonsensical and takes turns with no attempt to maintain suspension of disbelief, Korine is back to his old habit of repeating shots and bits of dialogue over and over (sometimes, Spring Breakers‘ 94-minute running time feels like it was achieved by only shooting 75 minutes’ worth of footage, and then just repeating stuff to pad the total time), and you never really do see those Disney princesses naked—just the extras and Rachel Korine. And if that was why you were wanting to see this movie in the first place, no, I don’t feel sorry for you that you’re not going to get what you want.

Beyond the whole whatzit factor of this project, there are individual elements that anyone with an open mind—and not just those who have a penchant for offensive films—will immediately recognize are incredibly well done by any standard. For example, while all four of the female leads are strong (Hudgens and Benson really put themselves out there for their roles, and Gomez plays the nice, religious girl of the four, so she doesn’t have to tarnish her squeaky-clean image quite so much), James Franco reminds us why we’ve always liked him so much here in his role as Alien, a smalltime drug dealer who bails the girls out of jail when they get in a bind. He strikes a nice balance between endearing, ominous, and deluded, and it’s easy to see why some of the girls are taken with him while others are scared of him.

Outside of the acting realm, this is easily Korine’s best-shot film. His movies tend to look something like Andy Warhol’s, but here, Benoît Debie’s black light cinematography is stunning. Debie is Gaspar Noe’s usual DP (he shot both Enter the Void and Irreversible, which are two other offensive but visually incredible films), which seems appropriate, as Korine has said in interviews that he wanted Spring Breakers to be like a Britney Spears film as directed by Noe. Anyway, the whole film looks fantastic, but a set piece early on involving an armed robbery as shot through the window of the idling getaway car is a knockout.

Finally, a question that’s been hard to shake since Spring Breakers went into production last year is: How in the fuck did this thing ever come to get made? And the answer to that is a good one. For one thing, Selena Gomez has said in interviews that her mom is a Harmony Korine fan, and she talked Selena into taking the project. Score one for Selena Gomez’s mom, then!

But the real hero here is Megan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures, who is the same billionaire 27-year-old who funded Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, the Coen brothers’ True Grit, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, and 2013’s forthcoming films from Wong Kar-wai, Spike Jonze, and David O. Russell, among others. That is to say, she’s got about the best taste of anyone currently producing pictures, and she appears to trust the artists she gets behind to do whatever they think is best with her money. The more I read about her, the more I idolize her. The next time you see a great movie that seems untainted by studio interference, keep an eye out for that Annapurna logo; I bet you’ll see it. | Pete Timmermann

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