Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is a candy-crush of colours, sounds, lights, and fragments. It is an often dizzyingly disjointed film and an often pensive one, but it is always exhilarating as a piece of art. Like the fabled degeneracy of spring break itself, this 2012 movie is pleasantly rudderless in its pursuit of pleasure.
There are certainly many ways to interpret the events of Spring Breakers and many ways to “read” this motion picture, from a commentary on the gratification of various chunks of Freudian psychological apparatus to a social critique of Disconnected Youth. But there’s nothing obvious about Korine’s flick beyond the neon glow of writhing bodies, flying bullets, grimy crooks, and more writhing bodies.
Spring Breakers concerns four college girls: Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brittany (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine). They are disillusioned and bored at school, becoming even more frustrated when they ascertain they are short on cash to go party at spring break in Florida. This sets Candy, Brittany and Cotty off on a plan to rob a chicken shack using squirt guns.
Their bonanza enables the girls to go to spring break, but it isn’t long before they find themselves pinched after a particularly wild party. They are bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a local gangster who wants the girls to join him. Faith is reluctant and leaves, but the other three girls find themselves swept into his lifestyle.
Much has been made about the use of so-called Disney girls in the cast, with Gomez and Hudgens apparently looking to pull an Anne Hathaway in Havoc and drop some of their good-girl imagery. In that regard, Spring Breakers makes Havoc look like another Princess Diaries sequel. Beyond shedding their skin, so to speak, Hudgens and Gomez are the perfect choices for “lost girls.”
Gomez, in particular, is ideal. She plays the aptly-named Faith, a Christian who is perhaps clinging to her friends out of boredom. She isn’t always a perfect fit with the other three, but they safeguard her and respect her wishes when she wants to leave. Her weepy appeals aren’t enough to dissociate them from the enticement of Alien, but Faith’s distress at things not going as planned does seem to land.
Alien represents the permanence of spring break, the fact that “the life” doesn’t just disappear once reality-fleeing vacationers take off. He is entrenched in excess and Franco is sublime in the role. From his “look at my shit” bluster to singing Britney Spears on a beachside piano (fenced, no less, by masked and armed girls), he is the American Dream writ large.
Indeed, Korine’s picture indulges in the indulgence that most of us only trifle with on vacation. The girls are variously intoxicated by it, dipping their proverbial toes in the water. Some, like Faith and eventually Cotty, scurry back to shore for different reasons. Others dive in fully and commit to Alien’s brand.
Korine has said that he wanted Spring Breakers to take on a liquid structure, like making music more than making cinema. Structurally, that certainly is the case. The film uses replication and even verses and choruses, not to mention a drubbing soundtrack provided in part by dubstep artist Skrillex, to shampoo its audience in gusts of colour and heat.
This approach is the ideal way to sink its teeth in and thrust past the limitations of the audience. With Spring Breakers, Korine lets us dip our toes in the water. He lets the audience play with temptation and nudge the contours of danger, losing decorum like a young girl lifting her top to stimulate a shirtless swarm of Alpha males.