Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers has undeniably benefited from the media hubbub surrounding the fact that it involves several former Disney starlets in extremely against-type roles. However to simply write it off as cheap titillation selling itself purely on the chance to ogle pretty young things in bikinis would be doing the film a great disservice. While it is not without its faults, it does have a wonderfully dark undercurrent and an eye-catching day-glo visual style.
The film sees four college girls Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), and Cotty (Rachel Korine), desperately making plans to get away from their drab normal lives and let loose on spring break. Severely lacking in cash however, Brit, Candy and Cotty decide to hold up a restaurant in order to get the funds for their trip. Practising Christian Faith, while not involved in the heist, willingly accepts the dirty money and ignores her religious friends’ pleas to be careful around her dangerous party pals. The foursome head off to Florida with their ill-gotten gains and embark on a booze and drug-fuelled series of parties. When the good times finally go bad and the four get arrested, they are bailed out by James Franco’s gangster turned rapper Alien. From here the girls enter into a shady world of crime and excess and it becomes increasingly unclear as to whether they will ever escape, or indeed if they even want to.
Spring Breakers was half an extremely good film. The first half was just a little too sleazy and garish in an MTV Goes Wild, Ibiza Uncovered, “can we make these girls jiggle a bit more?” sort of way. The second half however was far more entertaining and was instead a sleazy and garish film in a dark, scuzzy and twisted southern gothic sort of way. Once the crazy shit starts hitting the narrative fan, the film becomes immeasurably better. Arguably of course you need the earlier scenes in order to set up the later ones and give them such a pronounced impact, but this doesn’t make the sight of American kids getting drunk and naked any more interesting. The film eventually descends into a woozy hallucinogenic dream of sorts with Korine employing several little tricks to create a very distinct atmosphere. Dialogue regularly gets looped over the striking imagery and events unfold in a distinctly scattergun fashion over the pulsating soundtrack.
There are however a fair few ‘Sinead O’Rebellion’ moments where the film seems to be screaming at you, “LOOK….Look what we have her doing now!” After a while though, the films sleazy aesthetic takes over and you get used to the non-stop sordid imagery and stop focusing on the actresses playing the roles and instead just go along with the ride. The four girls all put in strong performances but its Franco’s unforgettable take on sleazy criminal Alien that steals the show. His gaudy house, complete with an arsenal of weapons and piano out by the pool, is itself a site to behold. A memorable scene where he vigorously implores the girls to “look at all ma’ shit” is strangely hypnotic, and another where he leads the balaclava-clad girls in a rendition of a Britney song out by the pool is truly captivating moment.
It’s hard to really pin down the point of Spring Breakers. It’s the sort of film that you think is going to have some sort of deeper meaningful message but after watching it, its hard to really point to anything of note. There are nods towards the idea of making a better life for yourself and of wanting to be somebody different, but that is only really loosely brought up during the girls’ phone calls home to the real world. There is at the film’s heart the idea of the destructive American Dream, the pursuit of wealth and excess above all else, but again, this is merely on the surface and not tackled in any meaningful way. I’ve seen some people talk bout the film attempting to capture the morally bankrupt and desensitised nature of America’s youth, but for me even that is a surface issue that never really gets explored in any detail.
In the end though, I’m not sure any of that really matters. The story is basically a dirty little crime movie that just happens to star four attractive young ladies in the lead roles. It’s visually arresting, hauntingly atmospheric and incredibly memorable. The surreal nature of the film and its part melancholic, part euphoric tone, makes for a unique experience that certainly lingers on after the film has finished.