As Spring Breakers tells us, all the girls want to head to Florida to party during that one magical week during their winter semester. Sensing that week passing them by, friends Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) knock off a restaurant and use the cash to head down for all the fun and partying they could ask for. They even bring their devoutly religious friend Faith (Selena Gomez) along for the ride. But after a run in with the law on unrelated drug charges, the girls end up in jail. Inexplicably, their bail is posted by a local drug dealer and rapper named Alien (James Franco). But why?
To say anything else would be a disservice to Harmony Korine’s twisted exercise in exploitation and lunacy. For this is a film that opens with a five-minute montage of young 20-somethings frolicking, partying and drinking on the beach, scored to loud and powerful dubstep by Skrillex. It is the furthest thing from subtle and is near baffling perverted and raucous it quickly becomes. But it sets the tone for everything to come in this gigantic ninety-minute cesspool of excess and fantasy.
The other thing to say is that Spring Breakers is never concerned with any semblance of substance. The storyline is held together by mere threads and the entire idea behind why these four girls desperately need to go to spring break is never made clear. It is the MacGuffin that drives the film and one that forces these girls into many unbelievable situations. And even looking past that, many of the events that occur (specifically after Alien comes into the picture) come off as disconnected, bewildering fantasies. There is no rhyme or reason for some of them to happen; they simply unfold almost at random. But that is the world of that Korine has created within the film, where the high gloss look rules and just about anything goes.
Credit must be given to the cinematography by Benoît Debie and the editing by Douglas Crise. From the opening shots to the finale, they compose a world of hedonism and exploitation unlike any beach or spring break-related film I have ever seen. The harsh close-ups, the dream-like aura that hangs over many scenes and the dark surrealism of many others is simply brilliant to behold.
The initial restaurant robbery scene is of particular note as the camera sticks to the passenger seat in the getaway car as Cotty drives around the building, showcasing in a near muted tone the chaos going on inside through the building’s windows. It is a bit voyeuristic in this regard, but then the entire film feels like you are on the outside leering in for a closer look. It really is a wild fever dream of a picture, and one that you will either watch and enjoy or drop immediately. There is no middle ground.
None of the four lead girls really put in amazing work in their performances, but the script never asks them to. They have no distinguishing character traits outside of Faith’s religious beliefs, and are frankly quite difficult to tell apart in some scenes where the camera gets hazy and the excess amps up. They really are there to stand around in bikinis and various other states of undress, having fun dancing, drinking and doing drugs. That is their sole purpose in the film; one that leads to a lot of deliberate exploitation. And on more than a few occasions, they are there to act out Korine’s zany female empowerment fantasies.
But in doing this, all four succeed greatly in their roles because they never deviate. They just accept what they have to do, and keep going. As a result, they obliterate any image you had of them before in their squeaky clean Disney projects (except for Korine’s own wife Rachel, whose previous work is decidedly not Disney).
But it is Franco who stands out above everyone in one of his most over-the-top, insane performances to date. His character is living proof of the American dream, and one that flops around on his feelings and fears more often than he should.
Hidden behind dreadlocks, tattoos and grills, he is almost unrecognizable when he first enters the frame. But his trademark grin is still very much a part of his character, so you can forgive how ridiculous he looks and allow yourself to believe he is the shrimpy white gangster he parades around and claims he is. He still manages to be charming even at his most ludicrous, so you know nothing good can come from what is owed by him bailing the girls out of jail. At one point, he sits outside at a beautiful white grand piano, plopped against the sunset and leads an absolutely absurd rendition of Britney Spears’ “Everytime”. Much like the rest of his performance, it is something you must simply see to believe.
By the time Spring Breakers ended, I was left in a state of bewilderment and confusion. And I think that is high praise enough for a film that is the very definition of all style and no substance. Korine knew exactly what kind of exploitive art house film he wanted to make here, and he succeeds brilliantly.
Story hiccups aside (or lack thereof), the film is wild, exhilarating and above all things, fresh. I was not quite prepared for the absolutely demented saga Korine cooked up, but ended up having the most fun film watching experience of the entire festival. Not everyone in the mainstream will get it, but those who will are in for quite the trip.