To call Spring Breakers, director Harmony Korine’s newest film his “most accessible” is both true and very telling of the kind of work Korine is known for. Exploding onto the scene at 19 as the writer for Larry Clark’s Kids and then spending the late 90s and 2000s in the experimental indie world with such classics as Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy, the man has been anything but popular and accessible. Therein lies the trick of Spring Breakers, this is very much an arthouse, post-reality and Girls Gone Wild hallucinatory mindtrip…but one that happens to feature two former Mousehousers in Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens. And if there is one thing we as audience members, willing participants in the debauchery happening on screen more than just debauchery for its own sake; it’s watching our innocent childhood become corrupted. Spring Breakers will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you cannot deny the genius of Korine for his use of multiple layers of corruption, withering, working both on screen and more importantly, off it.
Spring Break is not a vacation. Spring Break is a right of passage. Everyone else has gone down to Florida, we need to be there or else, and this is most certainly a generational thing, we could never be a part of the conversation. Social updates, photos, everyone will know if you aren’t there, so you had better be there so everyone can know. Four girls (Gomez, Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) need to get to Spring Break or we fear they’ll wither up and die. They need to go because that’s where they’re going to find themselves because their lives are boring and drab and look at everything that’s happening in Florida! People are living, dammit. With the exception of Gomez who plays Faith, the goodie-good who tags along, the girls are interchangeable parts. They don’t exist anyplace or any time except now, even their mundane lives at college seem more dreamlike than anything that occurs on the beach. Except for the hot pastel bikinis the four almost exclusively wear throughout the film I didn’t quite know who was who and realized it did not quite matter. In order to get them to spring break, three of the girls knock over a chicken shack, a little evil to do a greater good, and head on down to the beach, where the party starts on the bus before they even arrive.
The film, shot by the great Benot Debie, is a pastel riot, a superficial cacophony of sex and fun, all covering up the decaying corpse of American youth. The Great Dream, starting from the 60s and leading us through the rapacious soul of cool from drugs to money to technology, all to its inevitable end: a beach in Florida, or rather, an empty dock covered in blood. Nude flesh bounces without restraint, without consequence, in a haze of alcohol and beach partying. If there’s fun, it’s a fun raging against the dying of the light with the belief that maybe, maybe we can keep the party going. That it never has to stop. ‘Spring Break 4 eva’: the oft-repeated mantra that is whispered over hazy scenes of magic hour beaches and poolside singalongs. There is a shot early in the film, when the girls are knocking over the joint, where the camera hangs on the getaway driver observing the ruckus occurring inside. Despite the action and mayhem, it’s the quietest scene in the movie; we’re observing an observer who is observing other people who are simply acting out what they have observed in movies or video games. ‘Pretend it’s a video game’, the girls repeat over again. ‘Act like you’re in a movie.’ Maybe they know more than they’re letting on.
After a run in with the law, the first creeping in of something sinister under the surface, the film becomes less extremely raunchy beach movie and begins to develop that twisted heart at the core of it. The girls, nervous about being tossed in jail, are bailed out by a rapper known as Alien, played by a giving-a-shit James Franco. I could call him the devil, tempting the girls with a lifetime of this, but that’s giving Alien too much cunning. He’s a thug, a dumb hustler who has beef with a former friend. Different than a devil, he’s something else, he’s exciting and different; he’s the personification of the idea behind Spring Break. His house is filled with guns, cash, cologne and a whole assortment of items he owns simply because he can. Franco brings it and though the girls are the stars, he steals the show. He slurs in a southern drawl and flashes his platinum lined teeth in that James Franco smile. How is this the same guy who goofed his way through Oz the Great and Powerful earlier this month?
The forward thrust of the film is between the girls and their relationship to Alien. The foursome is dwindled slowly, with two of the girls finally realizing that the party can’t last forever. The story is less concerned with piecing the story together than it is with capturing a moment and a feeling. When the climactic, ‘pretend it’s a videogame’ finale comes to a head, we may not be entirely sure why it’s happening, only that it’s the only way this tale of moral decay could possibly end. The constant refrain of ‘spring break forever!’ and the cocking of guns for scene changes is amusing at first, then irritating. Korine has one message: that this party cannot, will not and should not last forever because too long a detachment from this will only result in death, be it of the soul or of the person and he hits us with it with all the subtlety of a pastel-colored sledgehammer to the face. The film is merciless, unwavering and it can be too much. There’s little variation on the theme and the repetition, while artistic, is overdone at times, tacking on minutes to a film that you just want to end. Perhaps that is the cunningness of Korine in Spring Breakers: you may want out of the party, but the party isn’t over until the party says it’s over.
This is a raw, wild, unpredictable movie. I can’t speak for the majority of Korine’s work, but he has hit a nerve here and will be handsomely rewarded for it. Everything about the movie, the style, the actors, the music (produced by Skrillex), the marketing and the story has been created to get young people in the seats so they can spend about two hours not watching a movie, but looking at a mirror. No, no, not at themselves specifically, but at the soul of their (our) generation, lost in a need for pleasure, adventure, for the ‘new’ and exciting, never realizing that we are hastening our own downfall. Will the target audience understand this, or like another status-quo subversion of a film, Fight Club will we only look at the ‘OMG’ cool factor that makes Spring Breakers so superficially satisfying? I suppose we’ll see come Halloween, as I can guarantee that some inspired college girls will dress up in bikinis and ski masks and wave guns around like their idols in the movie. Spring Break 4 Eva! Art became reality became art and has finally come back around to reality. Harmony Korine, welcome to the show.
Spring Break 4 EVA!!!11!1