“Spring break…spring break…spring break for-ever…”
If nothing else, you gotta love the cruel joke Spring Breakers will pull on unsuspecting audiences looking for disposable teen-friendly entertainment. Instead, what they get is a beach party movie (or an episode of Club MTV) as directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.
The trailer for Spring Breakers features scantily-clad college girls consuming drugs and alcohol, getting busted, committing armed robbery, and hooking up with a lowlife dealer. Disney Channel stars and pop princesses Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens feature in starring roles, alongside James Franco as the dealer (named ‘Alien’) and rapper Gucci Mane.
Most audiences, I can only presume, will take these elements at face value. At the very least, you expect this may not be high art. I wondered if writer-director Harmony Korine, the enfant terrible of American independent film who wrote Kids and directed Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, and most recently, Trash Humpers – 80 minutes of VHS found footage featuring actors in old-age suits humping garbage cans – had finally gone mainstream.
Right in the opening scene, Korine gleefully subverts both the culture he’s portraying and the type of viewer that mindlessly consumes it. Gorgeous cinematography by Benoît Debie (Irreversible) captures the unbridled nihilism with which spring break revelers pervert their environment while Skrillex’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites hints – hints, in only the way that brutal dubstep beat-dropping can – that everything might not be hunky-dory.
Throughout the rest of the movie, there are elements of plot and story that threaten to build to something resembling a piece of entertainment. But Korine is careful to never let that happen, giving us instead what amounts to an extended montage that represents a meditation on his characters and his audience. This is a movie concerned with thought and mood and eff everything else.
Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine (the director’s wife) join Gomez and Hudgens as a quartet of horny college girls looking to raise money for the ultimate spring break experience at a scuzzy St. Pete motel. Lacking the funds to secure their spot, they turn to armed robbery, ripping off a fast food chicken joint in a terrific sequence shown from the point of view of the getaway driver; we return to the actual robbery later, when the character’s actions have added significance.
On to spring break! Booze, boobs, drugs, boys, sex, and assorted debauchery…and the occasional Britney Spears sing-along (where Hit Me Baby One More Time takes on an unexpectedly literal sense). But things start to get a little too real when our girls get arrested and wind up in the arms of Scarface-wannabe dealer Alien. Franco steals the movie as the metal-mouthed white trash gangbanger; it’s amazing that this is the same actor from Oz: The Great and Powerful. The moment he falls in love with the girls is unforgettable.
But don’t confuse Spring Breakers with an easily digestible piece of entertainment. The elements are all here, but the result is unlike any previous approach to the material: nihilistic college culture as seen by an alien, who manages to capture it more accurately than any insider could, satire that bleeds past satire and into reality. It’s Malick’s The Tree of Life for the mindless spring break crowd, with all the brutal irony that description entails.
Rare is a film that can exist on purely experimental/intellectual terms. But Spring Breakers is a beautifully vicious piece of work that might be the director’s most accomplished work to date. The soundtrack, featuring original music by Skrillex, Gucci Mane, and Cliff Martinez (Drive) aid incomparably; the sounds of a generation used against them. Suffice it to say that expectations do not do justice to the experience of watching this film.