DAILY | Venice + Toronto 2012 | Harmony Korine’s SPRING BREAKERS

“This will make you feel old,” warns the Playlist‘s Oliver Lyttelton: “it has been 18 years since Harmony Korine wrote Kids at the age of 21.” Korine’s directorial debut, Gummo, appeared in 1998, “and over the last 15 or so years [he] has made films that (with the possible exception of Mister Lonely), push aesthetic and critical boundaries further and further, culminating in 2009’s Trash Humpers, a film shot on a VHS camcorder, featuring a cast in old-people masks generally trying to provoke the audience into walking out. So where could he possibly go from there?” The answer, of course, is Spring Breakers, “a curiously mainstream (at least by Korine’s standards) crime/exploitation picture—that could be described as Drive by way of Russ Meyer, Terry Richardson and Point Blank—featuring a bevy of teen starlets best known for wholesome work on the Disney Channel, and a performance from restless A-lister James Franco that might just be one of the actor’s best to date.”

“Sounds good?” asks David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. “Well, like the film as a whole, Franco’s borderline parodistic performance is interesting only up to a point. It may be one of Korine’s more conventional narratives, but this is basically a porn-pulp snort of derision at the American Dream and the youthful search for self, packaged as Beach Blanket Bingo on acid. It has hypnotic visual style and a dense, driving soundscape. But it’s also too monotonous and thematically empty to be seriously provocative.”

Spring Breakers is “a college-kid caper that’s not so much a case of Korine moving to the mainstream as him showing us just how woozy and debauched the mainstream can be,” suggests the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. Selena Gomez “stars as Faith, the God-fearing good girl who takes a vacation with her more hedonistic buddies Candy [Vanessa Hudgens], Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director’s wife). Unable to fund the trip by legitimate means, the quartet elect to rob a fast-food joint and light out for Florida. ‘I’m starting to think this is the most spiritual place I’ve ever been,’ coos Faith in voiceover while the visuals provide a slow-motion montage of jiggling butts and copious drug use. In Korine’s world, the sacred and profane have a habit of blurring.”

“It’s campy and comic at times, but Korine also gives the film a downbeat, melancholic edge, with voiceovers, pointed repetition of dialogue and images, and hallucinatory camera work, sound and editing,” writes Time Out London‘s Dave Calhoun. “All this helps to prevent ‘Spring Breakers’ from becoming a full-on flesh fest, and tips it more towards the surreal.”

“Korine knows that context is everything,” writes Tommaso Tocci at Press Play: “he takes his time before getting to the story itself, letting a couple of other introductory sequences accumulate to establish a mood and philosophy. This has always been his main asset, after all; he loves spaces, locations that need to be filled, the feeling of emptiness, the collective void…. This is a director who’s always been great at using ugliness (urban or personal) as a vehicle for meaning. With Spring Breakers he seems to have updated that notion to include the worst degradation of low-brow residue in contemporary American culture.”

For the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin, “beneath its Terry Richardson-esque porn chic surface, Spring Breakers is no racier than a mainstream Hollywood teen comedy, and Korine doesn’t seem to know what to do with his film’s incredibly timely, potentially dangerous premise. For a generation with ready access to the internet, the sex or violence is depressingly tame, too: a swimming pool ménage-a-trois between Hudgens, Benson and Franco even verges on the snuggly.”

“Casting the wholesome Gomez as Faith, with tabloid-sullied High School Musical alum Hudgens as the more rebellious Candy, is a reasonably clever wink,” grants Guy Lodge in Variety, “though the stunt hasn’t much of a shelf life, and both actresses deserve more to play with. By contrast, virtuoso French DP [Benoît] Debie (Enter the Void) is given the run of the toy store, lighting the film in exquisitely lurid pools of clashing color that lend even a university lecture hall the ambience of a nightclub at witching hour. The juddering electro score, a collaboration between Cliff Martinez (Drive) and chart-topping dubstep wizard Skrillex, couldn’t be more on the money.”

Spring Breakers has screened in Competition in Venice and will be a Special Presentation in Toronto.

Updates, 9/9: The LA Weekly‘s Karina Longworth: “The wonderful surprise of Spring Breakers is that, while the film essentially delivers what you might expect from these stars (all of them basically trying to do the Drew Barrymore-in-Poison Ivy vault into adult stardom) and this filmmaker independently of one another, their talents and assets in combination creates something much weirder, deeper, harder to pin down and impossible to write off as ‘just’ a goof, ‘just’ the result of an art filmmaker exploiting stars to skewer the culture they represent, ‘just’ anything.”

“[T]his is Harmony Korine doing late Hou Hsiao-hsien (say, Millennium Mambo and Flowers of Shanghai) via Miami Vice (the TV show and the movie) and Girls Gone Wild (the DVD and the downloadable internet version), and it’s as intriguing but also as problematic as that sounds,” writes Cinema Scope editor Mark Peranson. “[S]omething nagged at me throughout Spring Breakers, a mind-numbing film that mostly feels assembled rather than directed, and only later did I realize that it’s the clear influence on Korine of fellow amoral moralist Gaspar Noé (courtesy of his DP Benoît Debie), which is made explicit in the last shot—when the world finally literally turns upside down—and present as a snake in the grass throughout. Yet Korine is clearly a more intelligent filmmaker than Noé, as this barely scratches the surface as to what’s going on in Spring Breakers, a contemporary work that’s as American as apple pie, or a red, white and blue popsicle being fellated, but a film that also afforded me very little pleasure and gave me a headache; kind of like spring break, I suppose.”

Calum Marsh at the House Next Door: “Here is a film, to borrow a phrase from Don Delillo, about ‘the neon epic of Saturday night,’ a DayGlo beach-borne fantasy of bright lights smeared and shining; it exists in this strange and beautiful place upon which Malick, Mann, and MTV incongruously converge. This is art-house maximalism with a tenor like poetry, an incisive and critical drama unafraid to relish and indulge in the subject it intends to deconstruct. You could call it ‘high-trash’ cinema; it collects the cast-aside bric-a-brac of an ostensibly bankrupt culture—Harmony Korine operates here like some rigorously anthropological Katamari, rolling up anything and everything in his path—and transforms it into something earnestly, maybe even transcendently, gorgeous.”

“James Franco has rarely been cruder or funnier,” writes Jason Anderson at indieWIRE. “What Matthew McConaughey did for Magic Mike, Franco does for Spring Breakers,” adds Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan. “Each pushes their star power past parody as the debauched MC holding court over a motley crew of hard-bodied, in-too-deep young ones.” And Dennis Lim talks with Franco and Korine for the New York Times.

“Spring Breakers reveals how little Korine’s schtick has evolved since Kids,” finds the AV Club‘s Scott Tobias. “In the absence of any perspective or judgment on his part, Korine’s films about young people have an alarmist quality that’s not that far removed from Reefer Madness. The message here? Fathers, lock up your daughters.”

“What looked like a tired but characteristically scuzzy youth-culture satire turns into a self-conscious gangsta film that just wants to commit all the transgressions it was sending up,” writes the Boston Globe‘s Wesley Morris. “I don’t know why Korine would want to orchestrate his wife’s being doused in alcohol and nearly assaulted by party boys. It didn’t make me uncomfortable. But it didn’t have a point, either.”

Fernando F. Croce in MUBI’s Notebook: “When in the nuttiest bit Franco plays a Britney Spears song on his baby piano and the three heroines twirl around him in matching pink ski masks, that old exchange from The Simpsons springs to mind: ‘Are you being sarcastic, dude?’ ‘I don’t even know anymore.'”

Spring Breakers

Updates, 9/16: Spring Breakers will “will make for a wonderful viewing experience at home for those who share the girls’ love of marijuana,” writes Stephen Saito. “Yet just as the overindulgence eventually catches up with the girls, the cumulative effect of seeing bad behavior repeated time and time again diminishes its power. Is this to say Spring Breakers isn’t a must see? Hardly.”

Time Out Chicago‘s Ben Kenigsberg: “The saddest and most impressive thing one might say about Spring Breakers is that nothing in it seems entirely implausible; the events of the movie would require a dangerous combination of stupidity, money and peer pressure, but they do have a ripped-from-the-tabloids quality. The film’s Girls Gone Wild aimlessness masks a tightly coiled plot. Once neon-pink ski masks come into the picture, it’s hard not to feel as if you’re watching a future generation’s Risky Business.”

“The possibility that Harmony Korine may have created a better Malick movie than Malick is among TIFF’s weirder developments,” finds Jason Anderson, writing for Artforum. “[W]ith its dreamlike, often nonlinear flow and wealth of images both gorgeous and grotesque, Korine’s latest provocation may very well be a Tree of Life for dirtbags.”

More from Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York) and Fred Topel ( And indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn interviews Korine: “I told [cinematographer] Benoît [Debie] at the beginning that I wanted it to look like candy—like he had lit the movie with Skittles. It was about this dance of surfaces. The meaning is the residue that drips down below the surface.”

Update, 9/23: “Essentially the same film as Humpers,” writes Blake Williams, “Korine improves on that film here by correcting one essential trait: what was grotesquely hideous, grating, and ostentatiously low-grade is now euphoric and drenched in a gorgeous, neon HD glow…. More than anything…, the film works because of Korine’s ability to convey his general (albeit unsubtle) sentiment that Generation X is a defiled lot of violence and pop-obsessed hedonists.”

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