Childhood friends and college students Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are beset on escaping their dull college lives with a trip to Florida for Spring Break. To obtain the necessary funds they resort to robbing a fast-food restaurant with hammers and squirt guns, and are soon on their way to a spend a rebellious week behaving recklessly. Following an exceedingly wild party, the girls find themselves arrested, before being bailed out by Alien (James Franco) a gangster-rapper with ties to narcotics and arms dealing. While Faith is uncomfortable with Alien’s lifestyle and associates, the other three girls wholeheartedly embrace his promise to treat them to all the excitement and life experience they sought from a Florida retreat. The brave performances from former Disney stars Gomez (Monte Carlo) and Hudgens (High School Musical), and ABC star Benson (Pretty Little Liars) are one of the film’s chief calling cards. Their wild behaviour is unnerving and a testament to their evident range of talents. The unknown (to me) was Korine, who not-coincidentally happens to be the wife of the writer/director Harmony Korine (Gummo, Trash Humpers). Korine’s credits have been met with continued controversy and dealt with themes of social dysfunction through absurdist surrealism and cinema-verite aesthetics, but have become underground cult classics.
The more innocent Faith’s reluctance to partake in her friend’s increasingly dangerous activities is a mature calculation we support and sympathise with, but her teary declaration of her desperation to escape college life (even for a week) is a convincing one too. This obsession, and her forgiveness of the means that eliminate her gut-wrenching feeling of disappointment, clouds the judgment she has for her friends, who influence her participation in just about any of the debaucheries they suggest.
Hudgens, Benson and Corine are terrifying, their loose antics are irresponsible enough, but their gleeful gun wielding in Alien’s company and thirst for a replication of the rush they felt robbing the store (they drunkenly and savagely act out the crime for Faith, who didn’t partake) fuels a dark path down a nightmarish rabbit hole. Candy and Brit especially desire power, sex and material pleasure, and while they simultaneously seduce Alien, he seduces them with his assets and the promise of a slice of his personally cultivated American dream.
While discussing Alien, I’ll just say that Franco is astoundingly good here. He completely embodies this character – a self-confessed ‘G’ whose bed is layered with bills, who possesses shorts of every colour and envisions Scarface playing on repeat. With ridiculous dreadlocks and gold grills, this is not Franco we are watching, but a man who desires nothing but to be bad, and eliminate anyone who stands in the way of his dream. The film, for me, went to another level when Franco entered the scene, which says it all about how game changing it is.
Korine has asked his good-girl cast to immerse themselves in the lewd acts – binge-drinking, bong smoking, cocaine snorting – taking place at this concerning party tradition, which acts as the fox luring new day-glo-bikini-attired, Britney-fans every year and fueling the further corruption of the generation.
Now, readers must be warned that this film is an intended rejection of mainstream cinematic conventions. Spring Breakers has a lot of energy, but is more interested in character, social commentary and outlandish style than about clear-cut narrative. There is a story, but it lies dormant for lengthy periods and it becomes increasingly warped as the film progresses. The lighting is often fluorescent-tinted, the photography very stylized, scenes are edited together out of sync, and often the spoken dialogue (repeated, and whispered) doesn’t match the scene. One of the film’s highlights is the collaboration between Skrillex and Cliff Martinez (Drive, Contagion), providing a thumping electronic score that ripples an undercurrent of dread and complements the solicitous activity.
The film opens with a lengthy slow-motion montage of Spring Break frivolity, with excessive (by design) amounts of nudity, and beach party mosh pits. One can argue that Korine’s leering camera here revels in gratuitous female promiscuity, but is there enough context to justify it? I’m not so sure, but this is a series of snapshots of not just what the Spring Break tradition has become (I am implying without assurance, but reasonable certainty), but what the girls imagine it will be. Sitting in a slimy bathroom, piling together their feeble savings, they discuss how imperative escaping is. These girls want to join their now-absent cohorts and their hallway acrobatics is nothing compared to what they envision sun-drenched Florida to be.
When they arrive with plentiful cash, we see more of the same party scenes, except now the girls are front-and-centre, and they love it. The repetitive images of people dribbling alcohol over one another did at times grow tiresome, but for these girls at this point in time, it was their scene. They weren’t interested in their studies or prayer groups, but were possessed by the new experiences. Later, when in the company of Alien and to the whispered voice-over of “spring break forever”, similar images of the highlights of their beachside paradise return signifying their desire to never return to college, and continue to live the dream in Florida.
Spring Breakers won me over because it dared to be different and indulge all-in on a wholly unique sensibility. There are unforgettable scenes – the amazing in-car single shot robbery sequence, Franco hilariously unveiling his “shit” to the girls, and the incredible uniting of pink balaclavas, a grand piano and surely the best use of a Britney Spears song in a film ever.
It does feel like a flabby 90 minutes, but Spring Breakers is consistently arresting and never offers an inkling of what absurdity is to come next. As aforementioned, the brilliance of some of the elements can’t be ignored, and as tasteless as a lot of the content is, Korine’s style is admirable. Korine’s Spring Breakers provokes a battle of morality within a kaleidoscope of reality escape and culturally condoned debauchery and excess.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Spring Breakers is released in Australia on May 9th