You could be forgiven for misjudging this film, treating it as the glamourised, teen flick that the promotion would have you believe it is. However that is exactly the point to Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, as a film that although dressed up like a bad pop music video, with former Disney sweethearts Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez on board, is in fact a dark and disturbing comment on a broken youth culture in America.
We follow four close friends – Faith (Gomez), Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) who decide they want to travel to Florida for Spring Break, however given their limited funds, the latter trio decide to rob a restaurant. With a taste for law-breaking and a lust for danger, they head off on vacation, however their careless antics see them put in jail. Fortunately, they find themselves being bailed out by notorious drug and arms dealer Alien (James Franco), however, by committing such a friendly deed, the intimidating criminal will want something in return...
Korine does a fine job in portraying both the incredible ecstasy of a memorable occasion, with the disturbing side also, as through his use of music and imagery he can really make you feel both uneasy, or on top of the world. However the delirious bliss of the opening half – where everything is so great and wonderful is dropped in an instance as soon as Alien comes into the frame. As soon as you see Franco appear, it's as though a dark cloud has swept over the entire production, playing out like a bad trip, almost shadowing that of the drug experience the girls are having. Yes there are the highest of highs, but they come at the expense of one mighty come down.
Although the opening half of this feature – in particular the very first five minutes – is almost like soft-core pornography, it's never erotic or sexy, and is actually rather uncomfortable. Again reflective of the film itself, on the outside it's half-naked ladies dancing on the beach, but on the inside there is a quite seedy, almost perverse feeling of guilt, as the camera always feels like it's following a man's gaze.
Spring Breakers is definitely an attempt at gaining cult status, and although contrived in many respects, this does play out as a multilayered, comment on contemporary American society, and the desire to live dangerously and the 'need' to turn to a life of crime to get by. It seems like quite pertinent timing to be released, as this film explores America's relationship with guns and how naivety can be people's greatest downfall, getting involved in such a lifestyle as though following a fashion or trend. As Alien says, he is living the “American dream”.
Franco is fantastic, completely stealing the show with a chilling performance. All of the lead actresses impress too – Gomez in particular - despite the fact they don't actually have much dialogue, certainly not in correspondence with their screen time. There is little depth to any of the roles, and they are portrayed more like accessories. Though perhaps that is the point as the only character we seem to explore in any depth is Alien, and to him, the girls are just that.
The problem is, because we don't know the girls very well, we aren't able to comprehend their psychological journey, and it becomes increasingly difficult to believe in their transformation and willingness to be so violent and nasty and get so embroiled in such a dangerous culture. That said, Korine lets himself off the hook, as the film has such a dreamlike feeling, that any potential realism can be justly disregarded. Meanwhile, Korine intelligently allows the viewer to feel empathy towards the young girls, as despite their immoral tendencies, they have a vulnerability to them, enhanced greatly as they're all wearing bikinis for the majority of this title, which adds to their fragility, particularly when surrounded by intimidating gangsters.
Spring Breakers is an intriguing film and one that truly sticks with you – however falls short with a badly crafted ending that does take away some of the brilliance that comes before. Nonetheless, this does remain as a film to be seen – and whether it will resonate with you or not, it's a gamble worth taking. Go see Spring Breakers, y'all.