‘Spring Breakers’ has shallow humor, lacks depth

Courtesy of Muse Productions

 

Harmony Korine has spent so much time building up his image as a troublemaker that he hasn’t bothered to make any films worth the trouble of seeing. “Gummo” and “Julien Donkey-Boy” are both collections of intentionally shocking sketches, but despite spor-adically arresting imagery, they serve little purpose beyond brain dead exploitation. The trouble is that they pose as radical, experimental films when the most thought they encourage is mean-spirited condescension toward their unusual characters. That lack of empathy wouldn’t be such a problem if the movies themselves weren’t so irritating.

“Spring Breakers” is Kor-ine’s mainstream bid, but that doesn’t mean his latest endeavor is any better than his others. Sometimes the film is interesting, sometimes it’s striking, but, more often, “Breakers” is the worst kind of bad movie — cheap, post-uring and vainglorious. It bends over backwards to feign profundity and then claims irony to protect itself from the unintentional laughs.

Much has been made of the lead foursome of college girls being played by young stars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine. They definitely play more adult parts than they usually do, if being an adult only means being promiscuous. In their first scene, Hudgens and Benson exchange notes in class discussing their desire to be promiscuous. The girls are leeringly sexualized, with the only exception being Gomez, who plays a religious girl. Why she would even be friends with the others is a mystery, but that doesn’t matter — their bikini colors are the only true way to differentiate between the characters.

The closest “Breakers” has to an actual character is the girls’ eventual benefactor, rapper and crime lord Alien (James Franco), who is a weird hybrid of Scarface and Vani-lla Ice. Alien is an unapologetically campy creation who lacks the rest of the movie’s pomposity. Franco, a good actor when he tries, sinks his teeth into both character and surrounding scenery without any instinct of self-preservation. His goofiness steals the movie.

“Breakers” tries to be a morality tale for our times about four girls who get in way over their heads. But it fails to accomplish this as the girls are already doing drugs, stealing from restaurants and acting like unfulfilled nymphomaniacs. The girls keep saying they are miserable in college, but we barely see any misery.

The Florida they travel to is what you’d expect — it’s full of beer and bacchanalian excess, but on an unrealistically huge scale. This wouldn’t be a problem if “Breakers” didn’t aspire to anything more than trashy fun, but Korine continues to load on the self-importance. “Breakers” is shot and edited like a neon-drenched, emotionally stunted Terrence Malick movie, and Gomez, as narrator, calls spring break “the most spiritual place I’ve ever seen.” Going past the layers of dishonesty and pretension, “Breakers” is simply a dull and agonizing experience. This spring break, just stay home.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday March 13 print edition. J.R. Hammerer is a staff writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

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7 Responses to “‘Spring Breakers’ has shallow humor, lacks depth”

  1. Unknown on March 13th, 2013 8:11 pm

    Korine has made it very clear the movie is about the feel. It’s being stuck inside the head of a teenager who hasn’t fully grown up. I would say to stop looking at this movie like every other movie in terms of dialogue and plot; it has none. This is a movie you go to, to escape reality and submerge in fantasy (no matter how blatantly stereotypical it is).

    I’d review this review as poor, you went in there with a bad idea of Korine, of course you would dislike the movie. Be less biased…

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    John Hammerer Reply:

    Hammerer here.

    Obviously, in this case we’re in an auteur-as-fish situation. Some people like fish, some don’t. With non-mainstream movies, it’s even more so. You see something in Korine that I don’t, or can’t. And it’s good that you’re moved to defend him.

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    John Hammerer Reply:

    I will say that there were parts of “Gummo” and “Julien Donkey-Boy” that I did admire. Three scenes in “Gummo” – the prostitute with Downs Syndrome, the old woman on life support, and Korine himself with the dwarf – hit the spot that I think (or hope) he was aiming at. I actually preferred “Julien” more (though that may be because Werner Herzog makes everything better), and the wrestling scene was the high point of that film. And Korine does have a way with images – like the…

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  2. John Hammerer on April 2nd, 2013 12:18 am

    Unfortunately, the space limit on the paper prevented me from going into too much detail on “Breakers”. Again, James Franco gave a great performance, and the scene where he sucks on the gun was the single point at which I thought the movie hit the spot. And again, visually it’s quite remarkable – I do hope Benoit Debie gets more work in Hollywood.

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  3. John Hammerer on April 2nd, 2013 12:25 am

    But I remain skeptical about Korine because I have yet to be convinced he stands by his convictions. I do not care if a movie is conventional in dialogue or character – but for God’s sake, at least make the filmmaker honest about his own stake in the events. With many auteurs, you know they stand by their convictions. Terrence Malick, love him or hate him, believes in his movies, his style, and is interested in the questions they pose. Korine, though, is a problematic case.

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  4. John Hammerer on April 2nd, 2013 12:35 am

    Maybe it’s a fish situation, but “Spring Breakers”‘s attempts to plunge us inside “the head of [teenagers] who haven’t grown up” seems less motivated by a desire to ride the feeling and more a cynical ploy to shock the system and be an iconoclast. People like Malick, Herzog, Cassavetes, Altman and Godard – all filmmakers Korine admires – are iconoclasts, but they did so by being themselves, not by being stereotypically “experimental”. Korine’s movies are conventional to me.

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  5. John Hammerer on April 2nd, 2013 12:38 am

    But if you disagree, then fight me. Seriously, go ahead. I genuinely want to be proven wrong. If I’m missing something, then I want to see what I’m missing. If I’m wrong, then tell me why. I have to know. I need to know. If you can see Korine as himself and not a calculated poseur, help me see.

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