For those who aren’t familiar with the films of director/hipster Harmony Korine, Spring Breakers will look just like another Project X, one of those coming-of-age, ‘finding yourself’ teen movies that seem to come around every summer, similar to a Playboy shoot by the sea perhaps, or an Instagrammed version of Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents. It can’t be denied – that is basically what Spring Breakers is: beach parties, girls in fluorescent bikinis and excess of alcohol and cocaine, but there’s a whole lot more to take from it if you’re willing to endure the initial blast of colour and dubstep.
Korine began his career in film at the age of 18 by writing the script for Larry Clark’s Kids, a low-budget indie film about a gang of teenagers living in NYC, and went on to direct his near-perfect debut Gummo two years later, the story a group of earthquake survivors in Ohio. Julien Donkey-Boy, Mr Lonely and Trash Humpers slowly followed, and now we have Spring Breakers, his most commercial feature yet. The attention is due, unsurprisingly, to the presence of James Franco and the two ex-Disney girls, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez.
It begins with Skrillex (you know the one) and a full-on hyper-sexual montage of dancing and beer-bathing on a beach in Florida. Then, after robbing a restaurant with balaclavas and hammers to get coach money, the four girls (Hudgens, Gomez, Ashley Benson, and Korine’s own wife, Rachel) arrive but are immediately arrested following a drug bust in a stranger’s apartment. Enter James Franco as Alien (‘I’m from a different planet, y’all!’), a ‘gangsta’ rapper with gold teeth and shoulder-length braids who bails them out of prison and brings them to his house overlooking the sea, upon which he shows them his AK47 collection. He becomes a sort of mentor to the girls, providing them with food, money and guns. Franco plays him with a sinister arrogance, a man who has fully embraced his criminal lifestyle but still yearns for something deeper. His piano cover of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” is the best scene of the film.
Out of the four girls, Gomez’s character is perhaps the most interesting and surprisingly well-acted; she’s the only one who believes something to be deeply wrong about their situation and is the first to leave. The ominous click of a loaded gun and Franco’s repeated ‘Spring Break forever…’ leaves the audience with no doubt that the rapper’s intentions are not entirely respectable.
These are just the bare bones of Spring Breakers. Korine’s style is not to write scenes chronologically, but to create sketches, stories within themselves that may or may not relate to the main narrative. This cut-and-paste technique might not sit well with some people, but it’s certainly interesting to watch – you get a sense of how the film’s going to play out even before the girls get to Miami: the flash of a bloody hand, a muffled scream – it’s addictive cinema.
But what’s the point of Spring Breakers? Is it just pornography disguised? Is it a social commentary on today’s youth culture? It’s difficult to say, but it seems to be more an exploration of its darker side; the desire to be free, to have fun and ‘live life to the fullest, y’all!’ is so strong in these characters that it leads to them becoming full-blown criminals just to be a part of this unattainable lifestyle. Of course, the usual controversy surrounding a Harmony Korine film is present (see the exploitative nature of Kids, the drowning of cats in Gummo) and it’s hard to ignore – some of those camera angles must be illegal – but the film is actually very enjoyable. If anything, go and see it for James Franco.