Harmony Korine’s latest film may not be the best film of a generation but it could be the most relevant.
Spring Breakers is, without a doubt, a film of technical mastery, one that indulges the younger generation’s penchant for short attention spans and ADD. Shots, dialogue and full scenes are layered and replayed over and over again to drive development rather than relying on a strict narrative plot. There is a plot, of course, but Korine’s intentions are to expose his characters rather than tell a straightforward story.
On the one hand, the story of four college girls — Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) — who will do anything to get out of their Southern college town and down to Florida for spring break is treated with a slight aura of contempt. While parts are definitely meant to be comedic, especially James Franco’s turn as rapper and true gangster Alien, there’s a serious darkness that clouds the film. On the other hand, Korine seems to have some true affection for the lecherous holiday. He exposes a darker side of hedonism without ever really disapproving or criticizing the event itself. Rather, he’s interested in how far his main characters will go just to have a good time.
The real question the film begs of the audience, and its characters, is when does “real life” begin and end? At multiple points throughout the story, the four main girls refer to spring break as some sort of break from reality. This is especially true of Faith, who’s the most naive and God fearing of the bunch, but who sees spring break as a way for her to get out of their small town and experience something new. For the other three, who are already knee deep in partying at school, view it as a necessity. It’s so necessary, in fact, that they rob a convenience store to fund the trip. Once there, their good times go too far and they land themselves in jail for, mostly minor, offences related to partying too hard. For many, that’s where “real life” sets in again, but not so for these girls. Instead, they’re bailed out by the aforementioned Alien who asks them, but with a subtle air of expectation, to come hang out with him. No longer are they just four girls in a sea of bodies looking to blow off steam, they’ve re-entered reality and it tests each of them.
The most surprising aspect of the film is that while it does have its fair share of nudity, drug use and sex, it’s much more tame that expected. That’s especially true for the main cast who, more or less, remain clothed but who are constantly swigging from a bottle or smoking pot. Once Alien enters the picture, though, the group becomes divided in what constitutes “a good time.” As with the main cast playing against type, namely Disney princesses Gomez and Hudgens, Franco also plays wildly against type with cornrows and a grill of gold as a small time rapper who’s genuine about his drug dealing and gangster lifestyle. As serious as he is about what he does, Korine and Franco undercut him by also making him flat out ridiculous. One memorable scene finds Alien banging out a Britney Spears tune on his grand, white piano set out by the pool — on his beachfront property, no less — as the girls, clad in ski masks and wielding guns, waltz around him. If anything, Korine wants to demonstrate the world of spring break as slightly ridiculous, but also utterly real. Alien may seem like the butt of everyone’s joke, but his life is no punchline. He’s a big time drug dealer, a thief and a killer. What Korine does is juxtapose his reality against the fleeting mindset of these college girls just looking to push their limits to the extreme. It’s in that sense that Korine crafts a film, while presenting some real commentary on the current younger generation, never quite goes beneath the surface. The way it’s presented surely represents how the generation may view the world, but for all of it’s charms it never feels as heavy as it could be, or possibly should be. Still, it’s definitely headed for cult status and rightly so, if only for it’s art-house meditation on American debauchery. And for Franco. His performance alone is worth a viewing.
Rating: 4 out of 5