2013 - 130 minutes
Directed by: Harmony Korine
Written by: Harmony Korine
Starring: James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Selena Gomez, Gucci Mane
Spring Breakers feels almost as if it’s the fragmented memories of someone who experienced the crazy shenanigans, and we’ve tapped into their brain through some strange shared consciousness. It’s all fascinating to behold.
The hallucinatory journey begins on a dreary college campus where four friends dream of going on spring break. In their minds, St. Petersburg, Florida is a mystical wonderland where everything is perfect. For three of them, their days at college consist of dark classrooms, drinking and smoking weed, and passing out watching TV. The fourth, Faith (Selena Gomez), attends a prayer circle letting us know she’s the good girl, but she really only seems half interested in praising the Lord.
In a moment of clarity, the girls discover they haven’t saved enough cash for their trip to paradise. Candy, Brit and Cotty (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) decide, with no hesitation, to rob a local restaurant – “Just pretend it’s a video game” they repeat over and over before doing the deed. Director Harmony Korine leaves us in the getaway car as it circles the establishment during the heist in a visually interesting touch.
Exhilarated by their misdeed and flush with cash, the girls head to St. Pete. What follows is a haze of dancing on balconies, hotel parties, over-imbibing and hugging on the beach while sharing how they want this moment to last forever. But it’s hard to know where one moment ends and the next begins because they all blend together; we go from one event to another and then back again with no real discernible timeline.
The party comes to an end when the girls are busted at a party and doomed to jail time if they can’t pay their fines. Lucky (?) for them, they were arrested with some shady twins who are underlings of a gangster-rapper-clown-character named Alien (James Franco) who smells opportunity and bails the girls out.
Alien (real name Al, but as he says he, “Ain’t from this planet”) is a rare cinematic creation that is a successful dealer/gangster, but also equal parts idiot and manipulator. He and most of the girls bond quickly in a toxic mix. Girls who fund their vacation with armed robbery are easily seduced by Alien’s stacks of cash, cache of weapons, and collection of various hip hop culture items. The scene of him showing the girls his “stuff “is amazing; Alien is instantly quotable, no more so when he displays his weapons, shorts, cologne, et cetera.
All of the artistic flourishes from writer/director Korine come to a head in a bristling and brisk third act. The blurry pastel color palette takes a more ominous tone and the shotgun cocking and shooting effect that serves as a transition between scenes throughout the film becomes more tangible and the movie goes on. We’re quickly taken into the underbelly of the party lifestyle with Korine simultaneously celebrating and indicting the vibrant youth culture on display. This is by far Franco’s best and most interesting performance.
The casting of the girls is also perfect, all playing against type, and all making us believe what’s going down – or the fantasy of it, anyway. The music also fits perfectly – from the Skrillex dupstep, to his dreamy score with Cliff Martinez, and the fantastic use of the Britney Spears ballad “Everytime.” Alien sits at the flawlessly pretentious white baby grand piano outside his home and plays a few bars as the girls gather around wearing pink ski masks and toting shotguns. The actual song kicks in and as Britney sings we’re treated to a montage of the crew terrorizing and robbing vacationers.
Ironic use of music in film is tricky and sometimes the irony can seem faker than straight-on sentimentality, but here it is just perfect. It is one of those moments so flawless that this song now belongs to this scene; the two are inseparable.
This is Korine’s most accessible, and will undoubtedly be his most-seen, film thus far. But the writer of Kids and director of Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, Mister Lonely and Trash Humpers hasn’t lost his edge. This is a spring break I know I’ll take over and over again.