Review: ‘Spring Breakers’

Written & Directed by Harmony Korine
Starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine & Gucci Mane

Playing in NYC at AMC Empire 25 & Regal Union Square

Fully capable (and somewhat apprehensive) in drawing from personal experiences of the not so distant past, it now registers that March’s latter half essentially falls smack in the middle of college spring break season.  From Panama City Beach to Cancun to South Padre Island, flocks of youthful hard-bodied specimens of future executive, medical and political personnel will exodus to sub tropical continental areas in a bacchanalian assault on moral decency and the stifling cruxes brought on by communal suffocation.  Spring Break, second semester’s saving grace before the Adderall infused test in academic immersion of finals, serves as a right of passage for the millennial youth, in much the same way as fraternity hazing, pregnancy pacts and anti-psychotic prescriptions nowadays do.

Having claimed his ultimate filmmaking goal was too produce nothing short of “the great American movie”, Writer/Director Harmony Korine has now had a few undesirably metaphorical descriptions of contemporary culture; sometimes testing the patience of, not only, authority but critics and (certainly) the censors.  From his AIDS generation defying writing in ‘Kids’ to the lamentations of derelict fornication culture in ‘Trash Humpers’, Korine has fully established himself as one of punk cinema’s most punkish auteurs; a New York City skater kid turned no nonsense critic of culture, Korine pushes the envelope of acceptance while remaining centered wholly in the now, in all its filth and grime glory.

Now, in order to take this review any further we must establish one thing, and that is ‘Spring Breakers’ is no perverse tween fantasy as some may think (or hope).  Despite its reliance on certain name recognition, this is a film so far outside the mainstream corporate influence of safe artistry it is wonderous to have been made in the first place.  ‘Spring Breakers’ is neo-horror.  It is a story of the intellectual detriment of excess; on the progression and necessary acceptance of societal hedonism; of the hypocrisy in Christian self-suppression. Most of all it is a film about WHY IT IS GOING TO BE OK IN THE END.  ‘Spring Breakers’ is unlike anything Korine, or anyone, has ever done before.  It is a stunningly beautiful crack masterpiece.  It is pure art house genius guaranteeing upper echelon cult status, as well as the added commercial success through a genuinely shocked word of mouth.

Set in the sizzle, swamp, sweat and semen of Florida’s Tampa Bay area, and amongst a sea of jock strapped, bare breasted party animals, ‘Spring Breakers’ introduces a quartet of early 20 something’s in search of adventure, excitement and escape.  The suffocating lives of their undisclosed town instills intense cravings for fellatio and bong hits in faraway lands.  The millennial burden of impoverishment, despite education, experience or determination, make the ultimate goal a distant myth, where the struggle in just in finding the point of it all.  Along the way they rob banks, tease boys, dance in parking lots and droll through class all while awaiting the ultimate in escape, leading to a final shootout Django would surely bless.

By now it has been widely reported that ‘Spring Breakers’ primary stars Selena Gomez and Vaness Hudgens have shed their Disney channel identity entirely and in a non compromising way, maintaining artistic integrity that  Miley Cyrus cannot.  Gomez’ Faith, the quartets lone depiction of innocence, acts as a voice of sanity but also a representation of naiveté, which in a world increasingly Darwinist, both socially and economically, is what ultimately leads to her departure from the festivities.  Also in the mix is  ‘Pretty Little Liars’ Ashley Benson, who for all intents and purposes, acts as the groups lead instigator, Brit.  The director’s wife Rachel Korine plays Cotty, the group’s raunchiest character.  Interestingly enough hers is the only neon bikini to eventually be removed on screen, amidst a virtual tar and feathering of hard liquor and cocaine  Of the group, however, the centerpiece is Hudgens.  Holding the sultry looks of Angelina Jolie with the pedophile pop background of Britney Spears, Hudgens takes the most risk and pulls it off with confidence and pleasure.  Her comforting voice seems to guide the girls as situations turn from bad to worse, maintaining a glimmer of hope in the possibilities of anarchy.

We come now to the corn rowed, gold grilled, blunt worshipping Alien, as played by James Franco. Alien is a rapper with the strip club single “’Dem Dope Boys”, a mid-level drug dealer, a lover of life’s finer things like Christian Dior perfume and multi-colored shorts (as represented by one of film’s GREAT monologues), as well as a proud advocate of the bad life.  Alien is as far-fetched a character as one will find, yet disturbingly familiar to many, even outside the comfort of a movie theater.  Alien represents ‘Scarface’ first hour; he is ‘Malibu’s Most Wanted’ as birthed by a crack addict; he is a hustler and a buster all rolled into one.  Franco’s performance is so determined, energetic and believable that Alien could very well enjoy a spin off franchise to the fullest degree.  The genius behind Alien is that he is a character that cannot be disliked as he allows us to (somehow) understand his motivations in the scope of understanding our own world.  As soon as his love for Britney Spears anthems is revealed to be a primary motivating factor in his need to pillage, corrupt and kill, it all becomes crystal clear and our own questions in the peripheral effects of anti intellectualism has on culture as it progresses in a time of communication stimulation.

Aside from the multi-faceted directing of Korine, the pulse of ‘Spring Breakers’ is two fold.  First there is the ever present pulsating wonks and wobbles of dubstep that drives the film’s soundtrack, provided by none other then current electronic producer of extraordinaire Skrillex.  Also, there is the captivating cinematography from Belgian Director of Photography Benoît Debie.  Best known for the saturated sensory overload of Gaspar Noe’s ‘Enter the Void’, as well as the brutal fluidity of ‘Irreversible’, Debie’s grainy immersion plays between the heat of daytime partying and the chill of nighttime criminality with an artistic hand, painting absurdist portraits with each 35mm frame.  In one scene, the colorful reflection through church stained glass illuminates Gomez face as she tries to maintain faith as all around has gone to hell; it is an image as Boticelli as it is Bergman.  The moment captures both the beauty and struggle in social progress, acceptance and redefinition.

Spring Breakers’ is so uncategorizable as a film that it can only be called a film.  It is societal horror, instilling the suppressed voyeuristic tendencies so many unadmittedly harbor.  The inherent hypocrisy that ‘Spring Breakers’ addresses is in the fact that we want to look, we do look, we know where to look, yet remain determined in disguising that we look.  Maybe a result of guilt, that the new spring break generation is a result of the whipped cream bikini’s of 90’s MTV culture, but as drugs get stronger, sex gets dirtier and self-respect is eliminated, release becomes burden in itself.  As Cotty finds out, it’s all fun and games until someone gets shot in the arm.


– Steve Rickinson


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