It’s been over 24 hours since I’ve seen Spring Breakers, and I’m still at something of a loss to put into words how wondrous this film is. It’s not exactly a classic, but in it’s own way it’s a minor masterpiece, a film that takes a completely negligible genre, written and directed by an enfant terrible, and turns it into something marvelous. It’s as if Martin Scorsese made a Girls Gone Wild video.
The writer and director is Harmony Korine, who made a name as a very young man when he wrote the screenplay for Kids some twenty years ago. His last film was called Trash Humpers, which had homeless people having sex with trash cans. So it’s something of a miracle that this film is actually playing multiplexes (for how long, I don’t know–I was the sole viewer in the showing I went to).
The stars are young women who made their name on shows for teens: Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens on Disney Channel properties, and Ashley Benson on a show called Pretty Little Liars. But this film is distinctly not for teens, and credit must be given to these young ladies for stretching themselves. I would also like to personally thank them for appearing mostly in bikinis.
Those who have followed my reviews know I am partial to young, scantily clad women, and that is certainly a plus of Spring Breakers. But Korine has taken that and run with it, creating a beautiful and haunting film about a search for spiritual awakening. Yes, I said that right. At one point, Gomez says in a call to her grandmother that St. Petersburg at spring break is the most spiritual place she’s ever been. That sounds like a laugh line, and to some extent it its, but it’s also a truth of sorts, for Korine has created a spring break that is the site of a religious pilgrimage, an idyll that is roughly equivalent to Nirvana.
The film opens with a montage of shots of a Bacchanalia on the beach. Young, attractive people, drinking from funnels, frolicking like nymphs, the women bare-breasted, the men with six-pack abs. There are no frowns, no troubles, no worries, just unadulterated bliss.
Back at their college, four girls (the fourth is Rachel Korine, the wife of the director) are at college, sitting in a darkened lecture hall, the glow of laptops in front of every student. They want to go to spring break, but don’t have the money. Three of the girls are kind of loose–Hudgens and Benson share penis drawings in class, while Gomez is a girl of faith (her name, clumsily is Faith). She is warned about the other girls by her Jesus-freak friends (“they have demon blood”) but Gomez has known them all since kindergarten.
The three non-Christians decide on a bold plan: they rob a Chicken Shack with water pistols (normally used for squirting shots of spirits into their mouth) and use the cash to take a bus to St. Pete. I think the use of such a mundane city as St. Pete as the place that is over the rainbow for these girls is both funny and poignant. Gomez, though not participating in the robbery, goes along with them.
They party hard. I’ve never been on spring break, but I imagine it’s like this–copious drinking and smoking dope (one fellow has fashioned a babydoll into a bong). One party gets raided, and the four girls, still in bikinis, are locked up, since they can’t pay a fine. Enter Alien.
As bad as James Franco was in Oz the Great and Powerful he is genius here. Alien is a corn-rowed, gold-grilled drug dealer and rapper and pays the girl’s fine. Gomez is immediately suspicious of his intentions, and bolts back home. But the remaining three become his molls, as he asserts himself against the drug lord of the city, Big Arch (Gucci Mane) and they become a crew of home invasion artists. The robberies are done in a montage set to “Everytime,” by Britney Spears, whom Franco unironically claims is the greatest singer of all time.
Alien is such a great character. In a wonderful scene he shows the girls all his “shit,” which includes machine guns, nunchakus, Calvin Klein fragrances, and Scarface on repeated on the TV, 24/7. The girls and Franco form a bond when, showing them the guns, they take them away, loaded, and make him fellate the barrels. This is what makes him fall in love with them.
When one of the girls is wounded in a drive-by, Franco and the remaining girls plan on vengeance. The girls wear bikinis, sneakers, and pink ski-masks, their girlish backpacks strapped on. The ending is a balletic bit of gunplay that recalls The Wild Bunch.
I really dug this film. I loved the hallucinatory nature of it. Visually it’s stunning, with candy-colored photography by Benoit Debie. At times we just see images of spring break, with Franco intoning those two words as if they were a mantra. And yes, the film is sexy, with a Franco, Hudgens, and Benson engaging in a menage a trois in a swimming pool. Eroticism is a very difficult thing to pull off in movies anymore without seeming gratuitous, but this scene is both erotic, romantic, and tasteful.
The acting by the girls is adequate, without any of them distinguishing herself. I would have liked to know a little bit more about the characters other than Gomez. But I’m quibbling. This is a major achievement by a least likely director with a least likely cast in a least likely plot.
My grade for Spring Breakers: A-.