Directed by: Harmony Korine
Written by: Harmony Korine (screenplay)
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, James Franco and Selena Gomez
A neon pop nightmare of startling depravity, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers shows no mercy in its depiction of America as a doomed beach party. Set in (where else?) Florida during peak Spring Break season, it tells the story of four college friends who wax philosophical on their demented quest for not just a good time, but the good time. Along the way they meet a rapper/drug dealer named Alien (James Franco) who thinks he’s teaching them the ropes but is ultimately just along for the ride.
What makes Spring Breakers tick is not the countless slow motion shots of jiggling T&A, beer bongs and jock straps, but in the hyper-stylized rhythm that puts them into context. Despite the club soundtrack and the atmosphere of excess, it feels more like horror party than peep show, though at times Korine is clearly lingering in the bared flesh. As a whole, though, it is the most cinematically alive movie I’ve seen so far this year.
The four friends, Candy, Brit, Cotty and Faith (played respectively by Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Selena Gomez) are in Florida using stolen cash that the first three girls used in a startling, abrupt diner robbery near the beginning of the movie. Korine emphasizes Faith’s quasi-innocence somewhat to a fault, and thankfully gets her mostly out of the story about halfway through the movie.
Though Spring Breakers follows the girls’ journey from partiers to full-time robbers, it intentionally never develops them into full human beings and it certainly doesn’t moralize or punish their violent pursuit for the American Dream. At times the movie leans a little too heavily on its own intentions, but it is aided greatly by Franco, whose thuggish character spews Wall Street rhetoric from his metallic mouth with intentionally stereotypical thug bravado. After bailing the girls out of jail after they are arrested for partying (not robbing), they soon embark on a raucous, violent party of their own robbing those parties.
This scene, hilariously scored to Britney Spears’ balled “Everytime,” is set to the same slowed-down pace as the several naked beach and party scenes, and acts as an aggressive wake-up call. From there the movie descends into a somewhat troubling gang war subplot that Korine thankfully doesn’t keep digging himself deeper into after initially portraying.
All of the characters in Spring Breakers are stereotypes that either give up on the party, become extreme contradictions from that stereotype or die. The gang members are pigeonholed just as the beach partiers are, and they are troubling, deliberately shallow contradictions. The girls act as a violent bridge between those two worlds; disturbing illustrations of the college party mentality of spring breakers whose id truly knows no limit. Korine ultimately shows us, with varying degrees of success, a generation unaware of the grotesque, bloody underpinnings that make their no holds barred party possible.