Film Review: Spring Breakers

 
 

Title: Spring Breakers

Director: Harmony Korine

Starring: James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine

 

Hunter S. Thompson wrote about “a savage journey to the heart of the American Dream”, and Snoop Dogg said “I’ve got bitches in the living room getting it on and they ain’t leaving till six in the morning”. Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers lies somewhere between these two ideas.

The film opens, naturally, with footage of a beach rave to the lurching dubstep of Skrillex. Tanned bodies and Bud Light; objectification on a massive scale. We then cut to some genuinely pretty shots of an almost-deserted university, where our four heroines (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) are wishing they were down in Florida with seemingly the rest of the college-age population of America. They walk empty dorm hallways wearing bubblegum pink nail polish and sweaters with cartoon characters on them. Then they put on balaclavas and violently rob a chicken restaurant for vacation cash. Strange contrast, right? But then this film doesn’t take place in the real world; this is spring-break world, a dream world, a heightened version of reality.

Down in Florida, booze, drugs, and sex are all there for the taking. Korine didn’t pick two former Disney stars (and put them in bikinis for ninety minutes) by accident; we’re meant to be uneasy about the whole thing. Gomez’s character, Faith, takes the role of the sheltered Christian girl who loses herself in the good times with her friends. But then the comedown arrives. They get into trouble, and the true god of the film arrives to ‘help’ them; a local rapper (and literal gangster) named Alien, played mesmerically by James Franco in full corn-rows and teeth-grillz mode (à la Gary Oldman in True Romance). And if you thought things were crazy before, well, you’ll be surprised.

If there’s one thing that gets annoying in the middle of this sensory rush of a film, it’s the lack of a script. Seriously, they didn’t finish one before shooting, and it shows in dialogue that is often quite simple and declarative, or else full of platitudes. But then, that’s how real people talk (as opposed to a Tarantino film where the dialogue is amazing but you just know that no-one ever really sounds that cool). The repetitive flashback-editing may be designed to mimic human memory, but it gets old quickly.

Money is the biggest drug in Spring Breakers, and the film explores some very interesting dynamics of power and exploitation. It may be layered with sexual imagery and excess, but underneath this is actually quite a clever film. How far will you go to escape from normality? Who’s using who? And can you reconcile the juxtaposition of singing Britney Spears while holding a shotgun?

In a Nutshell: A hyper-real culture-shock with a brooding core.

 

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