“I’m starting to think this is the most spiritual place I’ve ever been”
When Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) come up short in their spring break savings fund, the girls (minus Faith) rob a local restaurant to secure their tickets to the ultimate college retreat—spring break in Florida. Crammed with alcohol, drugs, excessive nudity, guns of all shapes and sizes and gang violence, this isn’t your typical spring break, nor is this a typical movie for Disney starlets Gomez and Hudgens. Welcome to the dark side, ladies.
For those of you looking for a deeper meaning behind the neon-dazed art-house creation of Spring Breakers, there may not be one. And that’s the point. With casting choices including Disney darlings Selena Gomez/Vanessa Hudgens and ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” Ashley Benson, the film’s cultural casting statement certainly raises eyebrows and elicits confusion with it’s R-rating (Rachel Korine, the fourth spring breaker in the gang of four, is actually director Harmony Korine’s wife).
Spring Breakers is a college spring break trip gone unrealistically awry. After everyone in the dorm leaves for spring break, Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty devise a plan to get them out of their mundane circumstances. The plan? Steal a car, rob a local diner, burn the car, go to spring break. After their successful robbery, where they managed to not get caught, the girls take a bus to Florida where they party, ride around on scooters and revel in the debauchery that occurs down south every spring break. Sort of.
To understand the logic behind Spring Breakers, you need understand it’s writer/director–Harmony Korine. Rarely using a linear narrative while incorporating scenes filled with symbolism and metaphorical meaning, some of Korine’s earlier work include underground oddities like Gummo (chronicling poverty-stricken, white trash residents of Xenia, Ohio following a tornado in the 1970s) and Trash Humpers (the story behind a group of sociopathic elderly people in Nashville, TN), Spring Breakers is his most mainstream work.
The film brings the sensation of spring break as close to reality as possible (the film was shot on location during spring break using actual college students). Korine explains that the film consists of a generation raised on YouTube; the plot “plays like a Grand Theft Auto game, with about as much logic.” The film certainly pays homage to a “post-articulate culture” that feeds on video games, computers and ever-expanding technology, and incorporates characters that are morphed on screen like Call of Duty in bikinis on a neon pop-art canvas.
“It looks gorgeous. Drawing from his Day-Glo research, Korine told his cinematographer he ‘wanted it to look like it was lit with candy. Like Skittles or Starburst. I wanted the tone to be pushed into a hyper-candy-textural, hyper-stylised reality.’ Some of the trippy visual effects, meanwhile, look like basic Photoshop techniques. Is that a nod to the way kids use computers today? ‘Yeah, it’s all that,’ he says. ‘It’s meant to be a kind of visual mash-up, or an impressionistic reinterpretation of all those things. I was trying to think of the medium in a different way, or in a way that was at least more inventive. Something that was closer to musical experiences I’ve had, electronic music, things that were loop-based and repetitive. There’s not even a lot of dialogue; things are repeated in a way that a pop song has hooks. We were trying to obliterate the sense of time and go with something that was more like a feeling.'” Harmony Korine via The Guardian UK
Korine also incorporates a haunting score collaboration between Cliff Martinez (Drive) and Skrillex who helped create a “magical realm” and “physical bombardment” as a musical backdrop. The film also includes the 1998 Britney Spears ballad “Everytime”, which Korine uses twice and juxtaposes with unnerving scenes of violence and a grim piano rendition by Alien (James Franco). Why Britney?
“I’d been wanting to have that song play over these hyper-violent images in a way that’s almost a kind of strange music video, or a pop poem. I felt like the song in a lot of ways was connected to the film in that it was this beautiful, poppy, airless ballad – but underneath it there was something more pathological and aggressive and violent. Also I think Britney is a kind of cultural forebear to the girls that are in the film and that whole world.” Harmony Korine via GQ UK
The film also features one of the best performances by James Franco to date. Franco plays Alien, the born-to-be-bad gangsta rapper who bails the four spring breakers out of jail and takes them under his self-made wing. Alien represents the anti-American Dream with his self-made millions earned through selling a mass amount of drugs. With a laughable, yet unbelievably unscripted monologue where Alien shows the girls all his illegal possessions, Franco’s embodiment of his character is unlike any character he’s ever portrayed on screen. Did I mention he carries the most unsettling/uncomfortable scenes of the movie? Franco successfully creeped me out.
Although his real-life inspiration (who is also featured in the film) is Florida street rapper Dangeruss, his appearance, dialect and mannerisms are identical to Houston rapper Riff Raff. Even Dangeruss admit to Complex that the similarities were there, “See, the way James’ appearance is in the movie, you can’t really dispute that that’s kind of Riff Raff’s style. He got the braids, I got big dumb dreads. Dreads is a lion in the jungle type shit. He had braids, which is like a deer.”
On the exterior Spring Breakers looks like another teen movie exploiting youthful debauchery and glamorizing violence. If you don’t read between the lines, it may come off as simple as that. “Boring”, “Pointless” and “The worst movie ever” are among the common reactions to this film by movie-watchers unaware that Harmony Korine is taking 21st century culture and throwing it in their face.
FYI–Riff Raff has something to say about Spring Breakers :