James Franco, Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens in "Spring… (Michael Muller / A24 Films )
Despite the initial shock over alt-film provocateur Harmony Korine teaming up with squeaky-clean teen actresses Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson in "Spring Breakers," their collaboration makes some sense: Korine gets to channel and tweak the trio's mainstream celebrity, and the actresses get a chance to play edgy without hopefully tarnishing their reputations.
The resulting film, which tells the story of a group of college girls who turn to robbery to fund their spring break revelry, is garnering mixed to positive reviews.
Critics do agree on the film's aesthetic sensibility. It's been called "candy-colored sleaze" by the Times, as well as "an exploitative display of bacchanalian excess, casual sex and rampant nudity" (USA Today); a "super-stylized descent into a sunbaked hell" (the Associated Press); and "a sun-soaked postcard from Caligula's Rome" (the Village Voice). Whether the film works, per se, is a matter of some debate.
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In a review for the Times, Robert Abele writes, "The movie is an arty lark of ambiguous entertainment value, pulsing with melancholy," But, he adds, "It's rarely less than interesting visually or tonally, thanks in large part to Korine's prurient sense of humor and the rich location textures and Crayola sweep provided by gifted cinematographer Benoit Debie."
USA Today's Claudia Puig, however, calls the film "more tedious than titillating" and adds, "with director Harmony Korine's visual overload and somnolent voice-overs — the same sentences are repeated ad nauseum — it manages to be both mind-numbingly dull and off-putting." Puig does, however, praise James Franco's performance as a blinged-out rapper and drug-dealing weirdo. "It's all enough to make you queasy — equal parts disturbing and inanely incoherent — but Franco digs into the role with an enthusiasm not evident in his portrayal of the title character in 'Oz the Great and Powerful.'"
The Village Voice's Scott Foundas also commends Franco's turn, writing, "It's a full-blown Method performance (with an emphasis on 'meth') that can also be seen as a knowing lampoon of Method acting. In any case, it's a consistent astonishment." Foundas also praises the film's craftsmanship, by Korine as well as editor Douglas Crise, composer Cliff Martinez and electronic musician Skrillex (the latter two handling the soundtrack). "All I knew is I couldn't wait to see it a second time," he says.
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The AP's Christy Lemire agrees that "There is a great deal of genuine artistry in this film," which is Korine's "most polished and mainstream to date." She also writes, "As writer and director, Korine wants us to be appalled and aroused, hypnotized and titillated. He wants to satirize the debauchery of girls gone wild while simultaneously reveling in it. And damned if he doesn't pull it off."
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney is less enamored with the film, writing, "It has hypnotic visual style and a dense, driving soundscape. But it’s also too monotonous and thematically empty to be seriously provocative."
Perhaps, as the New York Times' Manohla Dargis suggests, it depends on your point of view. Dargis writes, "At once blunt and oblique, 'Spring Breakers' looks different depending on how you hold it up to the light. From one angle it comes across as a savage social commentary that skitters from one idea to another … without stitching those ideas together. From another it comes off as the apotheosis of the excesses it so spectacularly displays. That Mr. Korine appears to be having it both (or many) ways may seem like a cop-out, but only if you believe that the role of the artist is to be a didact or a scold."