Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, which has its U.S. premiere this Sunday at SXSW, seems like a recipe for overcooked criticism. It's a movie about kids on spring break played by former Disney stars doing bad things with a cornrowed James Franco. When the movie comes out in limited release next Friday and wide release later this month it's sure to be the topic of too many discussions—and probably the bane of them. And look here: It already is!
Is Harmony Korine Exploiting His Stars?
When reviewing the trailer—seriously, there were a lot of "reviews" of this trailer—Forrest Wickman of Slate wrote: "Exploitative? Maybe, with starlets including Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens somehow finding a way to spend every scene—whether on the beach or appearing before the court—in a skimpy bikini." While Wickman's statement may falsely attribute a lot of that desire—to be in bikinis—to the young actresses themselves rather than the filmmakers, the question of exploitation hovers over all discussion of Spring Breakers. In his new interview with Brooks Barnes for the Arts & Leisure section of this weekend's New York Times, Korine was explicit that casting the Disney girls was "a conceptual stunt." Then he backtracks: "Well, it wasn’t just a conceptual stunt. That’s a bonus. If you didn’t know who these girls are, that they came to my movie representing something, the film would still be the same." But Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times insists that between Gomez, Hudgens, and Ashley Benson of Pretty Little Liars, the starlets seem "reluctant to engage with how the film maneuvers the power of their celebrity to its own ends." If the actresses themselves don't want to "engage" with how obviously their director is using them, does it mean they are simply being used? It also remains unclear whether, as Guy Lodge asked, Spring Breakers functions on some level as satire of "vapid MTV exploitation shows" or just is one.
Is Harmony Korine Exploiting Random Kids He Filmed?
Korine shot real-life kids on spring break for the movie. In yet another interview for the Times Andrew Goldman of The New York Times Magazine asks Korine if he felt like it was "like it was wrong to be filming these people half your age, cavorting naked." Korine responds: "I never really feel wrong while making movies. I know myself and I know that my intentions are pure and I’m on the side of righteousness." Is he? You hash it out.
Is This Good for Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens' Careers?
While the movie seems like just another checkmark for James Franco in his increasingly bizarre career, for Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens (especially for Gomez) it seems like a calculated break from the type of family-friendly fare that made them famous. Jon Caramanica writes in the Times (which is really loading up on the Spring Breakers features) that "After 'Spring Breakers,' there will be no turning back for the two, nor any confusion about how they’d like to be perceived — not just as serious actors capable of more than just riling up tweens, but as rebels playing fast and loose with their images." In that first Times piece, Barnes explains that Gomez, Hudgens, and Benson "are all working to 'age up' their images, to use Hollywood lingo." Meanwhile, Selena Gomez has also made it clear that she sees a future for herself making indie flicks and has said: "I thought that going the independent route would probably be best for me"—and, yes, she has another indie coming up.
The young actresses have all shown that they can prance around in bikinis and handle risqué material, but is that the path they've chosen? Or does working with Harmony Korine mean they're willing to work with edgy directors, at whatever cost of comfort, just to make "interesting" films?
Is James Franco a Good Actor?
Between this and Oz the Great and Powerful we're seeing a lot of this guy these days. The few early Spring Breakers reviews from the Venice Film Festival didn't seem to decide anything about the quality of his performance, really. David Rooney at The Hollywood Reporter wrote: "Franco’s borderline parodistic performance is interesting only up to a point." That said, Oliver Lyttleton at Indiewire's The Playlist said the performance might be "might just be one of the actor’s best to date."
Is James Franco Ripping Off Riff-Raff?
Okay, the answer to this one is most likely yes:
Is it an Accurate Representation of That Part of Florida?
Is This Movie Just Really, Really Bad?
The A.V. Club called it "hyperbolically stupid in the usual Korine fashion" at the Toronto Film Fest. At Venice Xan Brooks of The Guardian said, "It's horrid, it's ghastly, it's bizarrely engrossing." There is zero doubt in our minds that this film will be polarizing when it comes to discussions of quality. Along with everything else.