Ahhh spring. The birds are chirping. Other birds are trying to have sex with those birds. And the bunny that lives behind me is gearing up for gardening season where he’ll eat the hard work of pretty much anyone in the neighborhood stupid enough to try and grow vegetables in their backyard. Also, drunk American college students are starting to be drunk American college students in Florida, fascinating both the media and Hollywood to no end.
These are the first images we’re confronted with in writer/director Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, a dazzling display of alcohol, nudity, and of course… girls seductively eating popsicles (Florida is really hot; it’s a matter of public safety). Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are four childhood friends taken by the allure of this break from the norm.
Naturally we spend the first 20 minutes or so of the film listening to the girls overstate the importance of a week off in the middle of March.
But the film takes a turn when – due to a lack of funds for their trip – Brit, Candy, and Cotty steal a professor’s car and rob a restaurant. With their newfound fortune the girls make their way down to the gulf coast and spend their first few days of spring break enjoying the excesses of Florida in March. Only then do they meet aspiring rapper and drug dealer Alien (James Franco) who shows them an even seedier side of these annual festivities.
Spring Breakers is far from a traditional narrative. The story itself, while demonstrating an undeniable forward momentum, is relatively non-linear in nature. At any given point in the movie Korine will cut back and forth between the same few conversations in an attempt to serve the larger theme of that particular section. This may feel disjointing to some, but overall it’s done fairly effectively.
In fact, you never get the sense that Korine isn’t firmly in control at any point in Spring Breakers. The film is beautifully shot and there are some brilliantly constructed sequences. The way Korine contrasts the supposed innocence of this particular group of girls (and the actresses playing them) with their actions is a master class in playing with audience expectations.
There’s nothing like watching a violent robbery scored with Rihanna or – in perhaps my favourite sequence of the film – a series of stickups set to an old Britney Spears song and punctuated by cute matching outfits.
But the sum of all these parts doesn’t add up to a particularly great story. The girls themselves are poorly developed and as the film wore on I found it harder and harder to understand or relate to any of their characters on an individual level. Indeed, Korine seems to favour style over substance throughout most of Spring Breakers. I could never tell if he was trying to make a commentary on the current generation of college aged youth (aka us) or a statement about materialism (probably not) or whether he just wanted to watch a bunch of coeds wreak havoc in Florida.
What I will say though is that he was very consistent in instilling in the audience the sense that the ringleaders of this particular group are in no need of protection. Even Franco’s character – who is exactly the kind of seedy individual most movies would play as the dangerous and corrupting influence our heroes should fear – seems to be the one taken advantage of by the end of the movie. That little inversion of the typical in-over-their-heads storyline is possibly the greatest coup Korine accomplishes over the film’s running time.
Frankly, this is one of those instances where I feel like I’ve talked myself into a higher grade just through the process of writing the review. In truth, Spring Breakers meanders a bit more than I would have liked (or seemed justified). And at 93 minutes it still felt a little long, which is not a great sign.
But I’ll also concede that there’s a lot more going on here than could possibly be observed in a single viewing. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, Spring Breakers just might be for you.