Harmony Korine’s SPRING BREAKERS movie is a contradiction: a visual orgasm of pornographic/pedophiliac imagery that can be interpreted as art, social commentary, or trash. There is too much artistry in it to be dismissed but it falls short of any kind of social commentary because the story grounding the visual/auditory orgy is so convoluted and fantastical.
One could make the argument that “spring break” is its own fantasy that never holds up to reality, and I think Korine attempts to make that statement with the repetition of Selena Gomez’s character “Faith” speaking to her Grandmother in voiceover that this is “the most spiritual place” and that they should go down there together next year. Clearly, she is a deluded girl. And I can even buy that these girls get wrapped up in the shady character “Alien,” masterfully played by James Franco, and end up in a new reality that puts them at real risk. But the girls rob a Chicken Shack to get the money to go down to spring break and then end up in a shootout with gangsters where James Franco’s character bites the dust with the first bullet but the two girls manage to take down the whole gang on their own. I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned when they robbed the Chicken Shack, but I guess I wanted it to be elevated to something more. It’s a micro-cosmic view of spring break following the girls who stay (and shoot) while the two girls who leave (Faith and “Cotty” played by Korine’s real-life wife Rachel Korine) are never heard from again except in Faith’s VO call to her grandmother. The fantasy is maintained throughout, evolving into a different kind of fantasy – the same violent, sex and drug-filled one of SCARFACE that the two remaining girls, “Candy” (brilliantly played by Vanessa Hudgens) and “Brit” (also well-played by Ashley Benson), share with Alien. In the end, SPRING BREAKERS lures you in with a tale of fun and sun at the beach for spring break, but it’s really an escape from reality for two completely psychotic young girls.
The visuals are out of this world and ride a dangerous edge of making the audience complicit in the girls’ debauchery. I think it crosses the line into exploitative fare, or at least certainly indulging in the stereotypes of male-dominated fantasy which has the risk of simply reinforcing them as opposed to challenging them. The music and sound landscape is spectacular and the acting is superb. I had scene Vanessa Hudgens in SUCKER PUNCH and knew she could pull off, at least visually, the sexy, rebel chick, but she stole the show in my opinion. I was also really wondering how Selena Gomez would perform and at every moment where she was challenged to show her acting chops, she did. The scene where she stands up for herself against Alien is a testament to her talent, and out of all the girls, hers is the only character with some kind of backstory. She’s the one with the Grandmother and the Christian group who wrestles with wanting to party and have fun but not too much fun. The fact that her story is left dangling with her on a bus and her VO phone call makes the journey of the film feel incomplete because it is set up to feel like her movie, her story.
SPRING BREAKERS is a movie that I couldn’t stop watching and have continued to think about days after the fact. And I don’t mean the pornographic images of 18 year-old boobs. Some critics have lamented the repetition of the visuals, the sound, the voice-over, but I found it not only hypnotic in a good way, but artistically well-managed and purposeful. It is NOT clear repetition, the repeated scenes are actually different angles for the most part and do provide a new look or insight into the action. This is best shown in the repeated footage of the Chicken Shack robbery which illuminates just how psychotic these girls are. Despite the chaos of the characters and the scenes, Korine is always in masterful control.
If only the story were so well crafted, it would blast the critics out of the water.