Written and Directed by: Harmony Korine
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, James Franco
Ask anyone and they’ll tell you spring break is a time-honored, distinctly American ritual that’s celebrated with abandon. Usually taking place in Florida or South Padre Island, TX, it’s a week where college kids give zero fucks and just let loose. In SPRING BREAKERS, writer-director Harmony Korine tells his not-as-shocking-as-you’d-think account of four best friends’ coming-of-age trip to the Florida coast for the party of a lifetime. Some are going to find this amoral, disgusting and dumb, while others – like myself – will find it engrossing, evocative and vibrant. Though it doesn’t build to a climax, it’s able to sustain its energy throughout – there’s never a dull moment in this debaucherous ride.
Though the film is very arty and takes massive risqué leaps (showing one former Disney channel star in a three way, and intercutting low-fi home video footage from past spring break celebrations), the film’s narrative is straightforward and – most shockingly – quite conservative. Stay with me here: Hardcore religious college student Faith (Selena Gomez) has a crisis of, duh, faith and wants to blow off steam with her bad girl besties Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director’s real-life wife), Brit (ScarJo dead ringer, Ashley Benson) and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens). The four friends want to get to Florida for spring break, only they are broke. What’s a girl to do? Since necessity is the mother of all invention, the bad girls steal a car and rob a local restaurant to get the remaining funds for their trip. “Sprang Brayk Forever!” calls out to viewers like a siren call. All is working out well for the ladies during their stay in the sunny wonderland – until they get locked up after a cocaine-and-booze-fueled party gets out of hand. Luckily for them, drug and arms dealer/ wannabe rapper Alien (a silver grilled, southern drawled James Franco) is there to bail them out. However, the wolf in sheep’s clothing exposes them to a seedy underbelly filled with escalating amounts of illegal and immoral activity.
Under the art-house artifice of Korine’s film lies a scathing, slow-burn indictment of an overprivileged, coddled generation. It’s a complex and layered commentary on the perverted American dream of spoiled kids raised to value fame, fortune and the “glamorous” gangster lifestyle above all else. Not only is this exhibited in the gleeful retelling of the restaurant robbery to Gomez’s character, but is epitomized by Franco’s character when he’s showing off the guns, knives and stacks of cash in his home. There’s also an ingenious montage that juxtaposes Britney Spears’ pop candy balladry and with a stickup. Similarly to PROJECT X, there will be teen audience members who will try to replicate the debauchery on their own, but honestly, I think it’s a good move rating this R as it really shows that specific demographic there are consequences to their shallow, greedy actions. There’s a brilliant conservative message hidden under the layers of Dov Charney and Terry Richardson’s exploitative aesthetic.
Other highlights in the film about low-lifes include the driving electro-pop soundtrack from Skrillex and Cliff Martinez (whose score here is more evocative of CONTAGION than DRIVE). Their complementary compositions heighten the film’s narrative and add atmosphere – which is something this almost-fever-dream runs on. Franco gives a must-see, mesmerizing, and at times comedic performance. While Gomez doesn’t stretch herself much beyond acting innocent in her bikini (the worst she does is smoke pot), Hudgens brings it with gusto as if this is her last shot at making people notice she’s ditched her Disney channel clean-cut image. Benson and Korine also give solid, assured performances.
Sure, there is a lot to dislike in the film; the intersplicing of home video footage can be construed as “student filmy,” the almost constant repetition of the phrase “Spring Break” can be maddening, and there’s not a lot in the way of substantial storytelling – just lots of cutaways of naked boobies bouncing and butts jiggling. And you may suffer from neon burnout by the end of the second act. Most importantly though, it’s also never clear what’s driving the girls’ actions – especially during the third act crescendo.
I didn’t celebrate Spring Break like this and – thanks to the film for its reaffirmation – I don’t think I missed out on anything.
4 out 5
SPRING BREAKERS opens in NewYork (at the Regal Union Square Stadium 14) and Los Angeles(at the Arclight Hollywood) today. Opens wide on March 22.