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Film review: Spring Breakers

Edmund Lee


Starring: James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine
Director: Harmony Korine
Category: III


Spring Breakers is easily the most accessible film that American writer-director Harmony Korine has come up with - but even that can be misleading.

His first two features (1997's Gummo, 1999's Julien Donkey-Boy) are cult favourites about freaks, mental illness and family dysfunction. His third film, Mister Lonely (2007), is a surreal portrait of celebrity impersonators and sky-diving nuns. Shot on VHS, the experimental Trash Humpers (2009) chronicled the antisocial behaviour of four young, suburban perverts.

With a track record that transgressive, it would likely be at the audience's own detriment to regard Korine's latest offering as simply a Girls Gone Wild-type sexploitation film featuring two former Disney princesses, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens. Spring Breakers may well be this director's craftiest film to date.

It is not by chance that when college gals Candy (Hudgens) and Brit (Ashley Benson) are giggling at their own flippant sexual remarks at the film's start, their American history professor is giving a lecture on the civil rights movement in the background.

The hedonistic protagonists may stay oblivious to the context of their lives but there is a clear purpose to Korine's madness as he casts James Franco as an anti-Prince Charming steeped in black culture, and unleashes the young women on a turf war against a community of gangsters headed by Archie (rapper Gucci Mane).

It all begins innocuously - to a degree. Once Candy, Brit and Cotty (Rachel Korine, Harmony's wife) have gathered their spring break budget by robbing a diner with squirt guns and sledgehammers, they're joined by wholesome Christian Faith (Gomez) on a debauched Florida trip.

After these childhood friends are put in jail for a drug-related charge, however, their dream holiday takes an even shadier turn as the penniless quartet are bailed out by Franco's rivetingly sleazy Alien, a self-professed bad guy prone to laughable excess.

Captured like a candy-coloured reverie by French cinematographer Benoît Debie ( Enter the Void), Spring Breakers at times feels like an artsy tone-poem that auteur Terrence Malick would have made if he had ever developed a taste for neon bikinis.

As Korine continually splices up his narrative with fragmented flash-forwards and flashbacks - all the while setting it against a voice-over track comprised of repeated bits of the characters' internal monologues, unanswered phone conversations and silly proclamations to each other - the film is ultimately both deeply shallow and seriously thought provoking.

Spring Breakers doesn't so much affirm the American Dream as it gleefully hallucinates aspects of it.


Spring Breakers opens on August 15



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