TIFF 2012 Review: Spring Breakers

Bikini clad Disney girls go off the rails in Spring Breakers, a candy-coloured sledgehammer satire from notorious provocateur Harmony Korine. The story of four sexy college girls who rob a fast food outlet to fund their Spring Break vacation, the presence of tween icons Selena Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place) and Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) belies the film’s seriously twisted approach, albeit one that’s made immediately evident once the movie begins via an extensive slow motion montage of drunken beachside revellers abandoning dignity along with their clothes. But although Spring Breakers is initially compelling – in Korine’s typically perverse and garish kind of way – its repetitious jabs at teenage hedonism and entitlement soon become grating, as the picture lags into a disappointing second half that, for all its explicit content, is actually kind of dull.

Gomez, in a good indication of the level of subtly on which Spring Breakers is operating, plays a devout Christian youth group member named “Faith”, who’s roped into the schemes of her three reckless friends, played by Hudgens, Ashley Benson (Pretty Little Liars) and the directors young wife Rachel (Mister Lonely). After holding up a fried chicken shack the foursome hightail it down to Miami for a chaotic week of drinking, gyrating and drug abusing. But the paradise they seek soon collapses in on itself, as the girls turn to increasingly desperate and more disturbing means to make their Spring Break dreams last forever.

After Korine shot his last film, the aptly named Trash Humpers, on worn VHS tape, Spring Breakers looks like the work of a completely different director. Glossy and gaudy, the film is a slick production lit up by neon pinks, yellows and turquoises that seem to pulsate along with the soundtrack (a skull thumping mix of Skrillex and Cliff Martinez). Even in the early sequences of the film, before things go south, scene changes and edits are accompanied by the sounds of guns being loaded, contributing to an intense, suffocating feeling that violence lurks just around the corner.

The brazenly against type casting is obviously very self conscious, on behalf of both the filmmaker and the actresses. For Korine, it’s a chance to corrupt iconography; to turn wholesome American girls into objects of titillation and, later, repulsion. For the girls, it’s a chance to break out of type-casting, and to prove their chops as legitimate performers. To their credit, all four do fine work, although Gomez seems less willing to “go all the way”, as it were, than her compatriots.

Languishing in lockup after being busted in a narcotics raid, the girls are bailed out by a drug and arms dealer named Alien, played by an almost unrecognisable James Franco (127 Hours). Chewing scenery with a mouth full of decorative metal, Franco, ludicrous, lecherous and also kind of brilliant, lures the girls into the debauched and violent Miami criminal underworld, where against all logic, they flourish.

But as the film morphs from dark Girls Gone Wild pastiche to twenty-first century Bonnie & Clyde, Korine starts to run out of steam. The grotesqueries of the MTV American dream, in which teens flash their breasts and asses in an inebriated stupor, prove mesmerizing to a point, but beyond that the film has very little. The use of repetitious whispered voiceover – oddly reminiscent of Malick, or perhaps his creepy pornographer cousin – only intensifies the feeling that Korine doesn’t really have that much to say. Soon the narrative starts to stagnate as well – for the last thirty minutes there is little sense of escalation, while climax is perfunctory and rather underwhelming.

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