Tuesday, 11 September 2012

SPRING BREAKERS - TIFF 2012 - Review By Greg Klymkiw

Babes in Bikinis. Babes with Guns. Babes with James Franco is lots of fun! Look at this shit! This is MY shit! These are my motherfucking GUNS! These are my NUNCHUCKS! All of MY shit! It's the AMERICAN Dream! MY dream!!!

Spring Breakers (2012) ****
Dir. Harmony Korine
Starring: James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Gucci Mane

Review By Greg Klymkiw
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads -

Ted Hughes, from his poem "Hawk Roosting"
Violence permeates every frame of Harmony (Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy) Korine's savagely beautiful Spring Breakers and the overall effect of his film places us in an almost hypnotic state where sex, celebration, friendship and love - the very foundations of humanity - give way to acts of barbarism. Savagery and civilization are, by strict definition, polar opposites and yet one gets an overwhelming sense from the world Korine creates, that civilization without savagery is not possible and that furthermore, they're essentially one and the same.

There is, finally, little to distinguish us from animals. We are animals. Rational thought is what supposedly separates us, but the tone of Spring Breakers is haunting and almost elegiac. Though there is a slender narrative to carry us along, the film is ultimately a poetic, visceral and visually stunning representation of creatures driven by instinct and any actions which move beyond that - hence demonstrating some shred of individuality - are either swallowed up, overwhelmed or left behind as the pack mentality of human existence is what finally drives every action.

The movie follows four young women - Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine). They live in a grey, bleak, suffocating and stupefyingly insular dormitory in a tiny, nondescript college town. When we first meet them, they're consumed with the need to join the thousands upon thousands of students celebrating during Spring Break, the annual hedonistic ritual of ingesting libations, hallucinogens, having sex and engaging in all manner of naughty fun as they party hearty under the blazing Florida sun. Alas, they're short of money which, leads them to finance their vacation in ways none of them imagined ever doing. Or did they? It seems that below the layers of their supple, nubile flesh, they have dreams of escape, experience and searching for lives worth living - even if the living involves criminal activity - or at the extremities of their meagre existence, the threat of death to others or, for that matter, themselves.

They seek to defile and be defiled.

Enter: Alien (James Franco). He pulls the girls out of a sticky wicket and they, in turn, stick to him like flypaper. He's a raunchy half-time rapper who's built his own crime dynasty after leaving the fold of his mentor and former best friend, Gangsta Archie (Gucci Mane). It's a bitter rivalry, but there's time enough for old scores to be settled - Alien has debauchery on his mind. Luckily, for him, some - though not all of our young protagonists - are more than up to the challenge of mutually agreeable debasement.

A long night gets longer.

There will be blood and it will spill.

This is the fuckin' American dream. This is my fuckin' dream, y'all! All this sheeyit! Look at my sheeyit! I got... I got SHORTS! Every fuckin' color. I got designer T-shirts! I got gold bullets. Motherfuckin' VAM-pires. I got Escape! Calvin Klein Escape! Mix it up with Calvin Klein Be. Smell nice? I SMELL NICE! That ain't a fuckin' bed; that's a fuckin' art piece. My fuckin' spaceship! U.S.S. Enterprise on this shit. I go to different planets on this motherfucker! Look at my shit. Look at my shit! I got my blue Kool-Aid. I got my fuckin' NUN-CHUCKS. I got shurikens; I got different flavors. Look at that shit, I got sais. I got blades! Look at my sheeyit! This ain't nuttin', I got ROOMS of this shit! I got my dark tannin' oil... lay out by the pool, put on my dark tanning oil...I got machine guns... Look at this motherfucker here! Look at this motherfucker! Huh? Huh? A fucking army up in this shit!

From beginning to end, Korine paints a dreamy portrait of angst, ennui and celebration. The celebratory aspects of the film are captured with seemingly unending slow-motion shots of gorgeous and decidedly anonymous young men and women splashed with sunlight on sandy beaches parading their youth, sexuality and good cheer in various stages of undress - lithe, hard bodies with tanned flesh and splotches of colour that appear almost fluorescent.

There's a strange disconnect, though. Who are these college kids exposing themselves to - each other or the camera (which often feels like an observational character unto itself) or both? Are we experiencing a dream? If so, whose? Are these flash-forwards and/or what our heroines hope/imagine what spring break will be like? After all, they are indeed on these same beaches after scratching up enough bus fare to get to Florida. It's also where they admiringly spy the rapping Alien and he, in turn, locks his greedy eyes upon the girls.

Beneath the smiles and good cheer, the same listlessness Korine focuses upon during the early college dorm sequences seems almost to be the root of the celebratory activities. Everyone appears to be having fun because they're supposed to be having fun. Certainly, this is the feeling when Korine's camera prowls about Gangsta Archie's strip club at night - the dapples of sun are replaced with coloured footlights, stage lights, even fluorescent lights and the colours, while vibrant, seem muted through haze and grain.

Whether he's behind the wheel of his car as he cruises the streets or leaping crazily and boastfully within his beach-side home filled with cash, drugs and a huge arsenal of weapons or on a pier during a peaceful and overwhelmingly radiant sunset, James Franco betrays, ever-so subtly and brilliantly, flashes of genuine regret, dollops of blankness and occasional sparkles in his eyes that seem forced. His work in this film is, almost not surprisingly, astonishing. Whether Alien reveals pieces of his sad back story to the girls or when he goes face to face with his old friend and now rival Archie - we see bravado, to be sure, but we also strongly sense that he's donning a mask. When the film inevitably rushes into the literal explosions of violence that the movie's undercurrents hint at, both Korine and Franco are a director and actor at the very peak of their formidable gifts and power as film artists.

Korine's portrait of youth in a hedonistic environment feels less like a narrative since its genuine dramatic beats feel few and far between. Instead they progressively and increasingly seem like buoys on the water of a fluid-like work of visual poetry, thanks especially due to the stunning work of cinematographer Benoît Debie (Irreversible, The Runaways, Get The Gringo). There's aural poetry also, since Korine slathers his film with the evocative Cliff Martinez-Skrillex score which not so much drives, but permeates the entire film almost non-stop.

SELENA GOMEZ as Faith: "I'm tired of seeing the same thing. Everybody's so miserable here because they see the same things everyday, they wake up in the same bed, same houses, same depressing streetlights, one gas station, grass, it's not even green, it's brown. Everything is the same and everyone is just sad. I really don't want to end up like them. I just want to get out of here. There's more than just spring break. This is our chance to see something different."

Korine is also blessed with a first-rate cast. In addition to the aforementioned and mesmerizing James (can-this-guy-ever-do-wrong?) Franco, Spring Breakers must live and die by the quartet of young women whose story the film ultimately tells and they acquit themselves admirably. The wonderful teen pop singers and former Disney TV moppets Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens (Wizards of Waverly Place and High School Musical respectively) both offer bravura work in roles on opposite ends of the film's centre of morality and their work here is genuinely revelatory. Ashley Benson and Korine's real-life wife Rachel contribute solid work also.

Korine's writing and his direction of the actors yields, for me, his strongest work to date. In particular the film features several expressive monologues rendered by Alien and the girls - usually in the form of exclamatory rants (on Alien's part) and extremely sorrowful speeches by the girls as they leave voicemail messages for their respective family members' via pay phones and/or verbally convey during dialogue scenes where one voice dominates - expressing the hope to return to the simpler lives they've eschewed for ephemeral thrills.

There's a lot of fun and cool shit on the film's attractive surface, but below the flesh of its forbidden fruits, are the layers that run deep, embodying lives with little promise save for the guarantee of misspent youthful activity which might well be metamorphosized into that of those like Alien - men and women who get older, not wiser, and keep clutching to the straws of a party they never want to see end.

But end, it does. When it comes, one can only wonder who was, in this sad, empty world ever really standing tall enough to be left standing at all.

"Spring Breakers" from VVS Films premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival 2012 - TIFF 2012.