You’ve seen the trailers full of bikinis, guns, and James Franco in all his glory. So what exactly is Spring Breakers? Most probably think it’s Disney girls that go on spring break and fulfill their wildest dreams. This film is far from it. Director Harmony Korine (Writer of Kids) brings us what is likely to be one of the most divided and polarizing films of the year. The movie follows 4 college girls who want to escape from their boring college life and get lost in the American tradition that is Spring Break. Without enough money they make a decision that is the catalyst for their downward descent into darkness. The film stars James Franco, Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, and Vanessa Hudgens (The latter two shedding their Disney image).
Korine takes a simple premise and basically liquefies the narrative structure of the film and throws in a hypnotic soundtrack, beautiful shots with a strong use of color, guns and lots of boobs (this is college spring break after all). The film is shot at points like a documentary but I never found myself distracted by the shaky camera some movies suffer from. The movie itself is a documentary of teen culture. Don’t take the characters and story literally here. Enter with an open mind and you’ll have far more enjoyment.
The use of visuals is at some points beautiful and if this film gives you nothing else at least it will look great. There’s also hundreds of girls to stare at which actually is what the movie is making fun of or rather exploring this idea in of our culture. It sometimes looks like a dream with all the neon colors that appeal to the senses. It’s impressive cinematography that won’t get the love that it deserves. I doubt I will see many more visually pleasing movie than Spring Breakers this year. There is a robbery scene that is beautifully shot as the camera stays in the getaway car and we see glimpses of the robbery happening inside (I’m a sucker for robbery scenes).
I wouldn’t say the film uses style over substance but rather it uses style to build substance which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. The film uses a narrative structure I don’t think I have ever seen quite like this. This is clearly an experimental film. Korine uses voice overs during scenes and sometimes repeats it multiple times and tries to knock you over the head with what it’s trying to say, yet it still feels subtle at times because the movie is so unique with its presentation. The way the story is told is incredibly original and ambitious which is always admirable even if this eventually begins to feel like a tiring exercise. The problem is that I didnt feel the story held that much weight. It’s more a music video than a movie at points. I totally get what they were going for I just wasn’t on board the whole time. This is probably what will polarize audiences most about this film (2 people walked out midway through in my theater) and the fact that it’s probably not what they paid for.
The characters Korine gives us don’t have a lot to do besides build the message he’s trying to get across. Selena Gomez’s character is the only character given depth too. Her christian faith is used as a flashback multiple times. She’s the only character that seems to have morals here and she of course acts as the moral compass of the group. Her plot turn in the middle some might be mad about but it actually adds a lot to the movie. The other girls, to me at least, represented the masses of college students trying to go to spring break. They spend all their money for this one trip. They want to become what they see on MTV. We’re not supposed to like them, we’re supposed to observe this exploration of our culture. All the girls give solid enough performances and I was impressed at their ability to show emotion but also act as almost robot like teens.
Korine mockingly takes a look at teens and their world. It’s incredibly eye opening and jarring to see this but it’s something I think needed to be said. The movie gets exponentially crazier and Korine asks “Ok you teens want more of this lifestyle? Here you go. Is this really the American dream you wanted?” Some will call this “Pointless” or “Disgusting” but I would urge them to look deeper and think harder. That’s kind of the point of the movie. If you hate it then you are essentially agreeing with the filmmaker. I believe he ultimately succeeds in stating his message. And I think the message might be deper than I even realize. That’s where I find a bit of brilliance in the film.
The highlight of the movie is James Franco (entertainment-wise) as a character named Alien. He has little back story but Franco’s charisma is off the charts here. A character I would normally dislike was so intriguing and I give that credit to Franco. Alien is used as a shift in plot and it’s something that I don’t think everybody will get on board with. Asking the audience to make a shift like this in a narrative that’s already polarizing is tough for audiences to swallow. But man does it get fun. I got on board for the most part because of Franco’s performance. Imagine James Franco with grills singing “everytime” by Britney Spears as you watch crimes being committed in Slo-mo. Yep, that happens. His turn in the plot does get to be tiresome as we are given side stories and new characters. It gets tedious after a while but again the visuals and soundtrack make it watchable. Unfortunately the plot gets boring at points in the second half. There’s just not enough happening with the characters. Franco is one of the few things making you hold on. Here’s a sample of Alien’s quotes which are so ridiculous they become awesome.
“My name’s Alien. My real name is Al, but truf be told, I ain’t from this planet y’all”
“Why y’all acting sspiciousss?”
“I was just thinking, maybe you were doin’ all that prayin’ and I’m the answer to your prayers.”
“Look at my f*ckin’ teeth! They should call me money.”
“I keep it gangsta! GANGSTAAA!!!!”
Spring Breakers delivers a wild ride that a lot won’t be able to handle and those that sit through it might not understand where the ride went because of its structure. I applaud Korine for his ambition here even if it doesn’t always make sense. But that really doesn’t matter. The film questions and looks deep into the rite of passage that is Spring Break. The depth here can be found in the stylistic choices of the film. The movie is a hypnotic adventure that subconsciously raises questions. The first half and second half are quite different and have slightly different tones. It’s often subtly satirical which worked best but perhaps the movie tries too hard to become great. The minor problem is that it can sustain interest or keep furthering the message near the end. The imagery and batshit crazy dreamlike images keep us entertained. There’s a lot to love but eventually we get the point, yet we go farther and farther into this eventually crazy story. Which in a way is admirable and surprised me. As I said before, don’t take this all literally. Everything is set up to explore a message. It’s interesting how this movie structurally works and even though we don’t have a character to cheer for it doesn’t matter because these characters represent a whole generation.
I don’t think the story and characters hold quite enough weight to back up the message but they do a more than sufficient job in what their purpose is. In a way the lacking identity of these women feels vital to what the film is saying about societies objectification of woman. The second half takes some leaps that pulled me out of the movie at times. It’s a very original piece of filmmaking that doesn’t ever steer into familiar territory. You have to give it that at least. Although it’s not for everyone I certainly had a damn fun time watching it and if you’re into artistic and ambitious movies or you just wanna see something different I can recommend it. Spring Breakers is a sultry movie that oozes style and imprints itself in your mind whether you like it or not. Spring Break Y’all!!!!