Spring Breakers: Holy Shit, Harmony Korine Made A Good Movie


Spring Breakers (2012)
Written & Directed by Harmony Korine
94 min.

That thing I said, in the title of this review? That’s a thing I never thought I’d say in a million years. I am not a Harmony Korine fan. I don’t like any of his movies. He has always struck me as someone with absolutely no comprehension of what parts of his films are good and what parts are weak, and somewhat proud of not knowing, and proud of editing in a slapdash way. For instance, in one of his notorious Letterman appearances from the 90’s (which I actually do enjoy watching, they’re awkward and fun and he has some genuinely witty improv moments) he boasts that he doesn’t care about plot, and that when he watches movies all he really remembers are characters and a few scenes, so he wants to create movies that consist entirely of random moments. That sort of thing doesn’t appeal to me whatsoever as a filmgoer or a filmmaker.

I have no problem with films being somewhat non-linear or avant garde—hell, I made an experimental documentary last year—but if anything, I think movies like that need to be even more meticulously edited than traditional narrative films. I spent about nine months editing Rehearsals, figuring out what scenes best led into the next, how long each shot needed to be, etcetera. In essence, I was doing my myriad writing drafts in the editing room, honing and honing until I had a fully polished work. To some untrained eyes of course, Rehearsals may still seem like a bunch of random scenes, but there is a through line, and if you gaze even just a little bit beneath the surface, many themes emerge. Furthermore, I can justify every scene, every shot, and every cut in the film—whereas I don’t get the sense that Harmony Korine can justify everything in, say, Gummo, or that he even cares. In fact, the trailer for Gummo (edited not by Korine but by Mark Romanek) is like a glimpse of what could have been, had more care been taken in the editing process of the actual feature. Romanek brought order to the chaos, whereas Korine’s editing (or rather, Korine’s overseeing of Christopher Tellefsen’s editing) just brought chaos.

Spring Breakers is proof positive that, with the right editing (Douglas Crise, you have my attention) a Harmony Korine film can be good, and in fact, fucking great. Spring Breakers is a great movie. It has a through line, it has subtext, it has symbolism, it has flow, it has everything an unconventional movie should have, and in fact, needs, in order to be fulfilling and not just a fuck you to convention for fuck you’s sake. This is Harmony Korine operating at Terrence Malick level precision. Not recent, lazy Malick—I’m talking Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line. And there’s a touch of David Gordon Green in there as well. Again, not recent, lazy—I mean George Washington and All The Real Girls. In fact, fuck it, Korine surpasses both Malick and Gordon Green here, as far as pure flow. Yeah, I said it. When I think back to those great movies, they’re wonderful and everything, but they lack the pitch-perfect flow of Spring Breakers. It’s a cohesive, poetic masterpiece.

Spring Breakers flows so fucking well it’s ridiculous. It’s alarming. I had to stop the shit a few times just to take a quick breather and pinch myself. I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve been so enveloped by a film, and not just the film itself, but its wisdom. Maybe the first time I saw Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. That far back. That’s insane. And I’m talking about a Harmony Korine film here. What is going on?

The last time I talked about wisdom on this site, I think it was in my Lena Dunham essay where I went on about how much Tiny Furniture and Girls suck, and how their suckitude is largely due to Dunham’s inability to imbue wisdom in her work as a result of the fact that she has none of her own. She is as lost as her characters, and as such, her naturalism (her depicting of things ‘as they are’) defaults to nihilism. In her circle of friends and family, she is clearly not the writer, the philosopher, the person with the answers—she’s the annoying parrot that can merely remember the sorts of things people around her say and do and then spit that back out on paper without any comprehension of why people say and do the things they do or what they should, ideally, morally, say and do, or at least strive to say and do. Contrast that with a show like Freaks and Geeks (a great show) where Judd Apatow and Paul Feig and the rest of the writers reflect on their formative years with the objectivity and expanded awareness and consciousness that they have now. Night and day.

Were Korine a younger, less-wise man, Spring Breakers would be shit. But it seems that, at the ripe age of 40, he’s finally come of age. He’s evolved—and seemingly overnight. Trash Humpers, his feature film before this, did not foretell this whatsoever, although it is arguably his strongest film other than Spring Breakers; the reason being that it’s supposed to be like some scary VHS tape that you found in an alley or something, and as such, the randomness works. His other films don’t have that found footage caveat though, and so their randomness is simply annoying. But I digress. The point is, there’s nothing similar between Trash Humpers and Spring Breakers (other than that their names sound similar). It’s seriously like he hit his head between that film and this one and suddenly became a better filmmaker. Or like Trash Humpers was this final, magnum opus of random that he needed to get out of his system. Whatever happened, I’m glad it happened.

I haven’t talked much about the actual film, and I don’t want to. Spring Breakers is a trip (get it!?) that you should go on without knowing much ahead of time. I could wax on about the fact that Korine has channelled all the best parts of Andy Sidaris, or about how James Franco’s three-dimensional performance here is his best to date, but who cares? Just watch the thing. It’s the first Harmony Korine film where if you scoff at it, you’re wrong. Whether or not you end up liking it (don’t worry, you’ll like it) this is a film to be respected. It’s quite clearly a very intensely thought out work. Here’s hoping his next film is more of the same, in that regard.

4 1/2 out of 5 Codys.

5 thoughts on “Spring Breakers: Holy Shit, Harmony Korine Made A Good Movie”

  1. Spring Breakers is still my pick for film of the year, nothing I’ve seen has even come close, except for maybe The Act of Killing. I actually went and saw it twice in theaters. Back when Pulp Fiction was at Cannes everybody said it was like going on a wild bender after sitting through 20 different arthouse films. I think that’s part of Spring Breakers appeal – it’s like a wild bender that draws you in and shows you the time of your life. I think Spring Breakers actually makes me enjoy Korine’s past work more just by virtue of how good it is.

    1. Yeah, me and John D’Amico both agree that Spring Breakers is the best film of 2013 so far. And I’d be seriously surprised if anything tops it between now and the end of December.

      I’m gonna be revisiting Korine’s older work with fresh eyes soon to see if I see any of it in a different light now, but just watching YouTube trailers and clips here and there over the past few days, I really don’t think there’s even a comparison. Like, his brain was always creative, that’s clear, but as far as pure execution, he’s gone from amateur to master. I never could’ve seen that coming in a million years. What’s next, Matthew Barney puts out a thing worth a damn? Larry Clark learns how to get good performances out of actors? The world is upside down. I can’t believe I’m living in a world where Harmony Korine’s latest movie is masterful and Wes Anderson’s latest movie (Moonrise Kingdom) is amateur hour. Is this real life?

  2. Wouldn’t call it masterful. It’s plodding and monotonous in a homogenized Terence Malick sort of way. So i’m not sure what ‘flow’ you’re referring to. I imagine the script could have been condensed to 30 pages. James Franco is also quite terrible. No suspension of disbelief with him. His southern drawl was abominable in a De Niro Cape Fear sort of way. But I did like the scene where he double sucks the pistols like a pair of cocks and then says “y’all my soul mates”. That was riveting.

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