Review: Spring Breakers

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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-.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

7 responses »

  1. Didn’t like this very much. Interestingly shot, and Franco is terrific, but other than that it didn’t have much going for it.

    I don’t see what was served by making the movie about the girls, because they’re all extremely thin characters and very dull besides. Probably it should have been reconceived as a movie about Alien, who is a genuinely interesting character. On the other hand, I thought Korine’s attitude towards Alien carried a whiff of kitchsy condescension to it, which was at odds with Franco’s very earnest portrayal of him. Seemed like there was some tension there, and it made some of the film’s other conceits, like the constant repetition, feel awkward and hollow.

    So instead we get a movie about four of the dullest, most vapid girls on the face of the earth, and even they aren’t all that convincing. Sometimes movies like this come along, that refuse to be about the actual interesting characters within, and I never quite understand it.

  2. Certainly they were supposed to be vapid. It was kind of the point.

    The way I see it, Korine was making a commentary on the state of youth today (and not just today–every generation has its idiotic fads and trends during college years). If these girls would have showed the least bit of intelligence or self worth, you couldn’t have bought them falling in with Alien. Gomez’s character, while there is no evidence she is smart, does have a shred of sense in leaving, perhaps because of her religious upbringing. Also, girls with any sense of high intelligence wouldn’t be so fixated on “Spring Break” as not only a way to have fun, but some sort of state of mind.

    I would have liked to see some differentiation between Benson and Hudgens, as they are essentially interchangeable. Rachel Korine is kind of that way, too, though her husband has interestingly given her the role of slut.

  3. Certainly they were supposed to be vapid. It was kind of the point.

    The way I see it, Korine was making a commentary on the state of youth today (and not just today–every generation has its idiotic fads and trends during college years).

    I suppose, although I don’t really know how much I buy this. A commentary saying what? Kids are stupid? Youth culture is vapid? Seems like a rather unappealing mix of easy targets and cranky old man to me.

  4. I hope you’ll forgive me saying so, but you seem like the cranky old man here, and unable to see the forest for trees. Oh well, your loss. Perhaps some bitterness was held over from Michigan’s trouncing of Florida.

  5. I hope you’ll forgive me saying so, but you seem like the cranky old man here, and unable to see the forest for trees.

    Perhaps, but that’s not really an answer to my question, which I was asking in earnest: a commentary that says what?

    Perhaps some bitterness was held over from Michigan’s trouncing of Florida.

    Geez, the B1G beats the SEC in something for once, and now I’ll never hear the end of it.

  6. A commentary on what? Oh, a lot of things–the American psyche short-circuited, as represented by the tribal ritual of spring break? I’m not a good enough writer to capture it, so I suggest you read Manohla Dargis’ review if you haven’t already. Here’s the last paragraph:

    At once blunt and oblique, “Spring Breakers” looks different depending on how you hold it up to the light. From one angle it comes across as a savage social commentary that skitters from one idea to another — white faces, black masks, celebrity, the American dream, the limits of self-interest, the search for an authentic self — without stitching those ideas together. From another it comes off as the apotheosis of the excesses it so spectacularly displays. That Mr. Korine appears to be having it both (or many) ways may seem like a cop-out, but only if you believe that the role of the artist is to be a didact or a scold. Mr. Korine, on the other hand, embraces the role of court jester, the fool whose transgressive laughter carries corrosive truth. He laughs, you howl.

  7. I liked this, although I’m probably somewhere in-between Slim & Brian re: it’s merits. Franco was terrific…I would hope he’s remembered towards the end of the year.

    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.

    I felt that Korine depicted the debauchery as if it were a nightmare, viewed through a flattering Instagram filter.

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