Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Film Review: Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers

Much the way Ken Russell's infamous 1991 film, Whore, turned the tables on Disney's ultra-sanitized, hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold film, Pretty Woman, Harmony Korine's controversial new film, Spring Breakers, gives all of those exploitative teen sex comedies the proverbial middle finger.   But, unlike the rather unremarkable Whore, Spring Breakers is a rather surprisingly wry satire on the drinking, drugs and general debauchery of that annual college-age springtime ritual we know as spring break.  In fact, it is probably Korine's most satisfying film yet.  Well, I am not sure if satisfying is the best term to use when describing anything by l'enfant terrible Harmony Korine (just ask David Letterman and/or Meryl Streep), but I must admit, I was pretty damn satisfied, so I am sticking with the word.

Korine, who for better or for worse, can be considered the Lars von Trier of American cinema, has been the controversial sort ever since his screenwriting debut with Larry Clark's 1995 film, Kids.  Making his own directorial debut with the 1997 film Gummo, a movie that was called both vile and sublime at the time - and sometimes by the same person - Korine has been a purveyor of the ugly and downtrodden.  Influenced by the likes of Cassevetes, Fassbinder, Herzog and Alan Clarke, Korine directed four feature films (and a slew of shorts and art installations) before this, and not a single one has met with anything less than disdain from the so-called mainstream, but yet here he is with what is surely his most accessible film yet.  Taking the idea of spring break, and turning it on its head, Korine's film is loud and brash and quite confrontational.  Spring Breakers is also a stunning work of cinema, that captures the harrowing side of society, and creates something strangely beautiful.  Korine's film, decorated with the bathing beauties of the Florida beaches - most of them drunk and apt fodder for a comeback of those Girls Gone Wild videos of the 1990's - is alluring and erotic, not so much for the sexuality of the goings-on (said goings-on are more ridiculous and/or pathetic, than sexy), but for the way Korine puts it altogether in a way that matches the surprising beauty of his third (and my favourite of his oeuvre) film, the enigmatic Mister Lonely.

What really makes Korine's film as intriguing as it damn well is, is the unique casting of the whole thing.  Now, I am sure such casting is unique just in order to be unique, just as Korine often pushes buttons just to, know, but it still is quite a fun little crew the director has put together.  Korine takes Vanessa Hudgens of Disney's High School Musical fame, Ashley Bensen of ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars, and ex Disney star (and ex-Beiber girl) Selena Gomez, and tosses them right into the middle of the aforementioned debauchery of spring break.  Most likely taking the roles in order to dirty up their typically squeaky images (granted, Hudgens already managed that through a publicly-outed sexting incident a few years back) this trio of former teen TV shows, manage, for the most part, to do just that.  Granted, Gomez still acts the good girl here, never delving into the nudity and so-called sexual depravity (not really depravity in any sense of the word in my mind, but other, more conservative folk would surely think so) that the other girls do, but for her, one supposes it is a stretch.  Benson and Hudgens definitely stretch.  Korine also tosses in his own wife, Rachel Korine, as the fourth in this out-for-kicks quartet (and media hype be damned, for the mostly unknown Mrs. Korine is, probably because of being the most real of the girls, the sexiest of the bunch - and perhaps the most fleshed out, character-wise as well) and, in the role of Alien, a rapper-cum-drug dealer-cum-nasty-assed white boy gangsta-wannabe, the rather ubiquitous Mr. James Franco - right off his own Disney-funded project, Oz the Great and Powerful.  Putting all of these unique factors together, Harmony Korine has handed us what can surely be called, his most satisfying work yet.  Hell, let's just come right out and call it the director's best damn movie yet.  So there.

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