On Campus

Spring Breakers: The emperor’s new bikini

Emma Teitel on why Harmony Korine’s latest may be the worst film she’s ever seen

I know I’m a few days late to the party, but if spring break is forever, as James Franco’s “Alien” reminds us every 15 seconds in Skrillex’s 92-minute music video Harmony Korine’s latest think piece, then I have plenty of time to kill. I never intended to write about Spring Breakers, until I saw it on Saturday night and have since felt worse than Stan and Kenny post Passion of the Christ. I want my money back. I want to round up my best girlfriends, invest in some pink balaclavas, day glo bikinis, and squirt guns, and hold up Harmony Korine’s house like it’s the chicken shack and I need to get myself to Florida, stat.

For some reason I find myself almost entirely alone in this sentiment, which leads me to believe that either the film’s greatness was lost on me (I am a boring nube and just don’t get it) or perhaps, Spring Breakers is the Emperor’s New Clothes of our day: a nude spectacle critics are falling over themselves to endorse. Sure it lags a bit, they say, but in a self conscious way. Can’t you see? It’s laughing at itself. It’s ironic. It’s rebellious. It’s a searing indictment of Western hedonism and materialism. It’s the only American movie that matters right now.

Or maybe..It’s just bad.

Not good bad, or ironic bad, but plain old fashioned bad, bad. (In fact, I think it may be the worst movie I have ever seen.) The synopsis is promising of course: four college girls, two of whom are played by real life Disney princesses Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, head to Florida for spring break after holding up a fast food joint. They party, end up in prison, get bailed out by a dirty south rapper/drug dealer who calls himself Alien (James Franco), making room for even more dangerous hijinks: in essence, people have sex and get shot.

The actual movie, however, is like a debauched episode of The Teletubbies: The sun is always shining, everyone’s naked, you can’t remember any of the characters names, and the same words and images (boobs, mainly) repeat on an endless, grating loop: “Spring break forever,” “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” “Spring break forever,” “It wasn’t supposed to be like this…”

But it is.

Harmony Korine is very talented. He wrote Kids, which is a good movie– more importantly it’s a movie in which people talk, and the characters are not interchangeable bikinis. It’s almost unbelievable that he wrote Spring Breakers, which–were his name not attached to it–would have likely been dismissed as some pervy film student’s end of term project on a 5 million dollar budget. It looks fantastic (the opening sequence, shot by cinematographer Benoît Debie, may be the best part of the movie), but it is still, despite its unrivaled licentiousness, wildly boring; a truly remarkable feat for a film exclusively about sex, drugs, and violence. Korine’s an aging  “enfant terrible” though, which means that everything he touches turns to hipster gold. It makes you wonder how other crappy movies would have fared, with his name in their credits:

Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, directed by Harmony Korine: A brilliant indictment of the black bourgeoisie in modern day America.

Gigli, directed by Hamony Korine: A searing satire of the modern-day American mobster.

Herbie Fully Loaded, directed by Harmony Korine: A brilliant and searing indictment of modern-day American car culture and the commodification of the male gaze.

It turns out I’m not the only girl who wants her money back. Spring Breakers has been denounced for its supposed endorsement of “rape culture,” “hipster racism” (spoiler: a lot of black men die at the hands of white girls) and what Buzzfeed’s Kate Aurthur calls “hipster sexism“: the notion that the objectification of women is okay when it’s ironic or unpredictable. (In Spring Breakers, Benson and Hudgens as Candy and Brit, force Alien to literally fellate their guns.) Aurthur is probably right. At least I’m pretty sure the movie’s feminist subtext was lost on the guys sitting behind me in the theatre, who craned their necks in delight every time a new pair of boobs bounced across the screen, and said things like “aaw yeah,” “work it,”  and “dammnn gurl.” But it was lost on me too. (I saw the movie because I had heard Hudgens and Benson make out in a hot tub. They do).

I don’t dislike Spring Breakers because it’s sexist, and I don’t think it’s racist. I dislike it because in and out of context, with or without the aging enfant terrible–it stinks.

Isn’t that enough?