dir. Harmony Korine
Release Date: Mar 22, 13
Spring Breakers is a lurid, grotesque, morally bankrupt movie that’s disturbing on so many different levels. It’s also the first great film of 2013.
Perhaps more than anything else, Spring Breakers is a series of contradictions. It’s an entirely populist movie made by arthouse darling Harmony Korine. It’s a platform for Disney princesses, who spend the entire movie engaging in very un-Disney behavior. But most of all, it’s at once a hedonistic celebration and a scathing indictment of a generation consumed by media, excess and self-importance.
The film revolves around four college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine) who rob a restaurant in order to go on spring break. Once they make it to the promised land, they end up getting arrested, but then bailed out by a drug dealer (James Franco) who takes them in like he’s running a daycare for Girls Gone Wild participants. While the film is ably handled by everybody in it, Spring Breakers isn’t the kind of movie that’s aiming for acting awards. All of the ladies do a perfectly fine job of shedding their good-girl images, and look like they’re having fun doing it. If their behavior occasionally shocks you, that’s not an inappropriate response, although to merely walk away from the film filled with incredulity would be to miss the point altogether. Oddly enough, one of the best performances comes from underground trap artist Gucci Mane, who doesn’t really do much “acting,” per se, as a thug named Archie, but whose performance is so naturalistic, it works only because he’s never doing anything more than being himself.
Franco is perhaps the biggest anomaly in the movie. He sure looks like he’s having a great time playing a demon-child spawn of Scarface and MTV named Alien, but as opposed to Gucci, it occasionally seems like he’s winking at the camera. Supposedly, Harmony Korine was initially talking to cult rapper/all-around crazy person Riff Raff about playing the role, even though Franco has since said that his character is based off another little-known rapper named Dangeruss, who is actually in the movie. (Fr the record, Riff Raff seems kind of pissed about the whole thing, so make of that what you will.) In comparison to such anti-mainstream personalities, a superstar like Franco comes off just a little bit like a forced choice to play this role. But to his credit, Franco sells it more than any other mainstream actor in Hollywood probably would, and brings his own gonzo form of the cult of personality to the role.
Of course, you’ve probably figured out by now that the performances and the plot of Spring Breakers really aren’t that important. As some have already pointed out, the movie plays out a bit like a series of vignettes made for the internet, rather than a movie theater. Indeed, I think Harmony Korine and I have spent a lot of time looking bemusedly at the same videos on Youtube (Riff Raff, Gucci Mane, Skrillex, Britney Spears).
But Spring Breakers’ hyper-stylization is actually part of the film’s strength. After all, what better way is there to make a film about the generation that was raised on the internet than to make the internet itself a vital character in the movie? And those who are ready to call “sellout” on Korine shouldn’t be so quick to judge. As opposed to, say, last year’s Project X, which was in its own way artful, Spring Breakers is hiding a rather sinister message beneath its candy-coated surface pleasures.
The movie is a lot of fun at moments. Korine acknowledges that the beginning of one’s life is full of vices, and to resist that is to resist an intrinsic part of life itself. But once the fun’s over, and you wake up the next morning, what are you left with? A hangover, maybe. Sure, sometimes you get a great story that you’ll tell for countless nights after. But other times you’re left only with regret, sorrow, and in the most extreme cases, a general loss of humanity. With Spring Breakers, Korine turns a toxic mirror to a generation obsessed with youth and excess, and unaware of the consequences their own decisions can have. The film stands alongside The Social Network as one of the few movies to accurately capture a snapshot of the millennial generation.
But to say that Spring Breakers is completely rooted in reality would obviously be a ludicrous proposition. The film has a dreamlike quality to it, where certain lines of dialog are repeated ad nauseam, and the narrative jumps around just enough to make you question the validity of what you’re seeing. In the end you can call it a fantasy, a parable, or just a really messed-up take on modern culture, but any way you split it, the results are unforgettable.
The true sick joke that’s at the heart of Spring Breakers is that it’s based around a mentality that’s a ubiquitous falsehood. “Forever” is an important concept in Spring Breakers. It’s going to be this way forever, we’ll live the American dream forever, spring break forever. But eventually spring break ends. You go back to school, you get a job, maybe a family or you don’t, and then you get older, and you die. The end of Spring Breakers (mild spoilers ahead) is made all the more frightening because this essential truth is thrust upon some of the characters, while others forge on as they have before, never looking ahead, never thinking about tomorrow.
When it is all said and done, Spring Breakers is a great reminder that while we’re alive it’s okay to have fun. Just not too much fun.