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Why the "Imbecilic But Gorgeous" 'Spring Breakers' Is the Movie of the Year

Reviews
by Sam Adams
December 13, 2013 1:00 PM
22 Comments
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Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers has squeaked onto a few Top 10 lists so far this year, but no one's made as emphatic a case as Tom Carson in The American Prospect

It features bare breasts galore, surreally goofy robberies and mayhem, and an all but unrecognizable James Franco wearing what look like brass knuckles on his teeth as a white rapper/wannabe gangsta named Alien.  Will you believe me when I go on to tell you it's the funniest, brainiest movie about our national character -- which, this being America, means our national fantasy life, otherwise known as the pursuit of happiness -- I've seen in I don't know how long? 

As you'd expect from Carson, a two-time National Magazine Award winner, it's a delightful read, the moreso if you imagine the Prospect's audience -- who are, let's just say, somewhat outside Spring Breakers' target demographic -- spewing their herbal tea and dropping their monocles as they read it. 

Spring Breakers isn't one of my Top 10, or even 15 or 20, all of which I've been asked to submit to various publications and polls. But I think that Spring Breakers is unquestionably the movie of the year, in the sense that Pope Francis is Time's Person of the Year -- not the best movie of 2013, but the most 2013 of them. If you want to show future generations where the United States of America was at in 2013, plug Spring Breakers right into their skulls.

Harmony Korine's movies always walk the line between genius and fraud, and Spring Breakers wobbles more than some. It's his most "professional" film, beautifully shot by Enter the Void's Benoit Debie, but also one of his glib and least personal. It's easy to love, and also easy to underestimate. Korine's playing a double game, exploiting the images of nubile young women and hip-hop-inflected excess while putatively critiquing them -- though it's easy to see the latter as a smokescreen for his not-so-covert indulgence.

Jonathan Rosenbaum, in a screed attacking the "critical inflation" of the year-end pileup, called Spring Breakers "another let-them-eat-cake and ultimately unthreatening (if doggedly puritanical) provocation crossed with kiddie-porn," a statement that shows his age more than his taste. Neither the young co-ed characters or the actresses who play them are children; hell, Selena Gomez is even old enough to drink. But there aren't many American movies that confront just how fast and how hard young people, especially women, grow up these days. One moment Gomez's character is a fully sexual adult, the next she's on the phone to her parents like a lost child. It's ugly and weird and uneasy-making, and unquestionably meant to be all of those things.

In his six-way tie for 10th place, the New York Times' A.O. Scott links Spring Breakers with The Bling Ring and The Wolf of Wall Street, all of them movies that some critics have dismissed for being in poor taste (the latter in vague terms since the studio embargo holds until December 17). But perhaps good taste isn't the best way to represent a country, and a culture, that no longer seems to have much interest in it.

Reviews
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More: Best of 2013

22 Comments

  • GBH | December 17, 2013 3:18 PMReply

    Kind of a racist point of view - if the author was honest with himself, he would have written "If you want to show future generations where the WHITE PEOPLE United States of America were at in 2013, plug Spring Breakers right into their skulls."

  • frederique | December 16, 2013 12:38 PMReply

    No, actually the breasts and butts were not mostly in the first 10 minutes of the film. Indeed, the "stars" of the film spent the entire time in bikinis, and frequently the camera lingered on their body parts, because they weren't exactly celebrated for their brains, now, were they? But besides the blatant sexism, the film wasn't even well made. It was loaded with cliches techniques, like the excess ion rock video slow motion, the extreme close-ups for tension, the mind-numbing, never-ending background "music", the most inane and repetitive dialogue I've ever heard, the stupid characters that riff on negative stereotypes in a very racist way. There is basically no story. Seriously, how can people call this genius or a masterpiece? Clearly, you don't appreciate good film. Spring Breakers is a piece of trash, maybe for trash humpers? LOL.

  • wolfkin | December 15, 2013 2:18 PMReply

    >It features bare breasts galore, surreally goofy robberies and mayhem

    most of which is in the first 10 minutes of the film. Don't get me wrong. I rather enjoyed the film. I think it was very interesting. and you're right while not the best it could be argued as the most 2013 of the films released this year. (I'm not sure I agree but I see the argument)

    But the film was completely missold. It's like being told you're getting a fantasy film and getting a historical narrative where children THINK they're in a fantasy realm. I can agree with the argument that this was intentional. Such that the very people the film was lampooning were the ones in the seats when it was in the box office. The whole film could be seen as a giant inside joke.

    But it's still too chaotic to be that great. It's barely coherent. Selma Gomez for all that this was supposed to be her "breakout" role didn't really break out. And not in a boobz or gtfo sort of way. But ****SPOILERS**** her character WAS the good girl. Her character was the first to leave to go home. She was never into the scene as her friends were ****/SPOILERS****.

    Alien however was charming. Alien made this film in however this film could be made. It was chaotic, it was a lie, it didn't really make a lot of sense. But James Franco brought something to that role that is probably going to get grossly underrated even with all the praise he's already getting.

  • simonsays | December 14, 2013 5:05 PMReply

    "This" Trash is for perverts.

  • j | December 15, 2013 12:48 PM

    Trash is right this movie was horrible

  • Laurie | December 14, 2013 12:03 PMReply

    You've got your popes mixed up. Pope Benedict is not Time's person of the year.

  • Sam Adams | December 14, 2013 3:23 PM

    Yeah, I meant to correct that and... didn't. Now I have.

  • Alien | December 14, 2013 11:26 AMReply

    Why is erryone hatin on dis y'all!!!!

  • Jon | December 14, 2013 12:01 AMReply

    Gorgeously shot and yeah, get where it's coming from, but the lack of coherent was just too much of a disaster. The movie spends all this time focusing on Selena Gomez, then her character just up and splits. Best music video of the year maybe.

  • Tom | December 13, 2013 9:12 PMReply

    How about no. A trainwreck is still a trainwreck no matter what critics try to save it from itself. The movie does not comment on "our national character". It comments on trash media and it's assault on our national character, an assault which this movie is still a part of.

  • lily | December 13, 2013 5:46 PMReply

    i find it funny how the audience and public detested this film but it has recently done so well among the critics. so commercially it was terrible but artistically it clearly had something more than what the public could see or understand.

  • Coney | December 13, 2013 5:09 PMReply

    I'd rather take an outwardly imbecilic work that is in fact genius, than a supposedly genius work that is in fact imbecilic. I can think of a couple examples of the latter.

  • Fredrique | December 13, 2013 3:28 PMReply

    this movie is SO BAD i could barely stand it. it's so sexist and racist and dumb. if anyone thinks this is the movie of the year for any reason they ought to see a whole lot more films. PLEASE! give me a break. the only redeeming quality is some - and only some - of the cinematography.

    otherwise this movie straight up sucks!

  • John Q. | December 14, 2013 11:25 AM

    You say sexist, racist and dumb, isn't America in 2013 like that?

  • corvo | December 14, 2013 11:22 AM

    It's a great movie. You are a bigot.

  • alphabet | December 13, 2013 3:41 PM

    the movie is brilliant.

    you are wrong.

  • Hernan | December 13, 2013 2:10 PMReply

    'Spring Breakers' is the worst film of the decade.

  • Adrian | December 13, 2013 3:08 PM

    I just sucked both y'alls dicks

  • Joe H. | December 13, 2013 2:31 PM

    lol, I know right?

  • SSSSSSPPPPRRRIIIIINNNNNGGGGG BBBRRRREEEEAAAAAKKKKKK | December 13, 2013 1:53 PMReply

    Spring Breakers is quite simply a misunderstood film by some, hence they say it's the worst film (they were expecting Project X) but a little gem of a masterpiece that will be remembered for years to come.

  • Daniel Delago | December 13, 2013 1:29 PMReply

    'Spring Breakers' is the worst film of the year.

  • fredrique | December 13, 2013 3:29 PM

    i could get behind that...

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