WHO knew Harmony Korine could make an entertaining film? The indie film outsider, who wrote Larry Clark’s contentious drama about disaffected New York teens, Kids, in 1995 has done it with Spring Breakers. It’s certainly entertaining although not entirely fulfilling, a piece of often outrageous eye candy derived from questionable motivations.
Korine has slunk around the sides of American filmmaking for two decades now, producing esoteric and sometimes involving but never quite whole movies and short films. The perhaps disingenuous tale of his way into the movies says photographer Clark saw him skateboarding and asked him to write a script about young skateboarders, including a subplot about teens and AIDS. The result, Kids, was more sensational verite than cogent narrative but because it displayed aberrant behaviour among teens, it found an audience. (Dipping back into Kids recently, I found it surprising to recall it starred a young Rosario Dawson.)
Since then, Korine has dabbled as writer, actor, director, producer and David Lynch-type oddball specialising in creating wandering misfits for the screen in films such as Gummo, Mister Lonely, Trash Humpers and his attempt at Dogme filmmaking, Julien Donkey-Boy .
He’s an insolent director, prodding viewers to provocation yet betraying his motivation with lurid or titillating stuff. What his ultimate creative raison d’etre is, we will probably never know. Perhaps he’s a one-note provocateur who occasionally stumbles on moments of beauty. At least, that’s what I felt after watching Spring Breakers (R18+, Icon, 94min, $29.99), his most, and I use this term warily, commercial film. It is commercial in that it has a cogent narrative, is cinematically stylish and features a cast including James Franco and two young women hoping to move on from their teen years as Disney commodities, Selena Gomez and High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens.
Again, Korine has it both ways, placing the four girls (Gomez and Hudgens are joined by Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine, the director’s wife) within the well-worn American film scenario of the spring break, the US version of the schoolies period in which teens play up. The four students are bored — it’s Korine, after all — and struggling to find a means to get to a spring break holiday. They rob a fast food restaurant, head to the coast and party before falling under the spell of drug dealer, rapper and gun lover Alien, played with convincing lechery by Franco. Things inevitably go from bad to worse.
Whether Spring Breakers amounts to anything beyond vacuous entertainment will depend on how generous the viewer is. Korine isn’t lambasting the girls’ behaviour, gun culture or anything in particular and you could argue it’s exploitative. He can’t be making any serious point given his titillating slow-motion close-ups of excess. But you can’t deny for once he has it all together. For what ends, who knows? This week
Homeland: Season 2 (MA15+)
Fox (637min, $49.99)
The Place Beyond the Pines (MA15+) Roadshow (135min, $39.95)
Better Man (MA15+) SBS (198min, $29.95)