Okay, let’s get this out of the way right now so we can actually have a serious discussion about Spring Breakers. Spring Breakers is full of…
Asses. Big ol’ bums. Badunkadunks. Apple bottoms. Backpacks. Booty booty booty booty rockin’ everywheres. The Kardashian’s defining character trait. Bubble butts. Booty short breakers. Butter buns. Cheeks. Derrieres. Jiggle butts. Moneymakers. Gluteus Maximuses. Pancake butts. Muffin butts. Tukhuses. Spank material. Heines. Tight asses. Wide asses. Big asses. Small asses. Hot asses. Sweet asses. Flat asses. Phat asses. Spring Breakers has a lot of butts in it!
Do we have that all out of our systems? Great. Let’s seriously analyze Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers.
You may laugh at how over-the-top and ridiculous that intro was, but I kid you not when I say that most people only think of Spring Breakers as “that ass film.” At best, it’s pretty laughable and immature how the movie showcases college girls in bikinis, but at worst, it can be kind of sleazy watching the camera drag itself over the tits and asses of its drunk subjects. Spring Breakers is not a movie that you watch with others in a public setting. It’s abrasive, rough, and you may catch an STD or two watching it from how scuzzy it can be.
The reception to Spring Breakers, as was pointed out in our review posted nearly six years ago, correctly called that this was going to be a divisive movie. I know that the last time I did a Deep Analysis I claimed that Watchmen divided opinions, but that divide is much more pronounced with Spring Breakers. You either love it or you hate it, and most people fall into the hate category for how mindless, lurid, unrealistic, and bizarre it is. For God’s sake, this is a movie about how spring break can almost be considered a religious experience to college girls and eventually leads to violent gang murders. Who in their right mind thinks that Spring Breakers is a good movie?
It may come as no surprise to you if you’ve read anything I’ve written, but Spring Breakers is easily one of my Top 5 favorite movies. I watch it on a yearly basis. It inspired me to become a film critic in the first place because I just needed to share my thoughts on it. For nearly six years I’ve never had a legitimate reason to discuss it. Why would anyone care about a 2013 thriller that disguised itself as a party movie? So this analysis sat in the back of my mind until last week, when reviews from SXSW started to pour in on director Harmony Korine’s latest film, The Beach Bum, which uses the same aesthetics of Spring Breakers to provide a more jovial and relaxed experience. And suddenly, Spring Breakers became relevant again. I could talk about it.
But I just don’t want to talk about Spring Breakers now. I want to talk about my thoughts on it when it first came out back in 2013 as well as my thoughts on it today in 2019. Two different Jesses, two different perspectives on why Spring Breakers is a phenomenal commentary on society.
Adolescent Angst, Generational Disgust
A lot of people may forget this, but Spring Breakers had some of the most deceptive marketing I can remember for a movie. A movie that was about a group of girls traveling down to Florida for spring break and slowly descending into a violent gang war was marketed as your typical teenage party movie. We saw the main group of girls, played by Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine, all of whom do have names in the movie but are so forgettable that it doesn’t really matter, getting wasted and partying. There wasn’t a single hint of nefariousness in the trailers. So when audiences went into it expecting another Project X, a movie where teenagers and college students party with no limitations, it instead condemned that notion and held up an ugly mirror to the audience, stating that Spring Breakers is the reality while its trailers were just a fantasy.
And as a high school senior, I ate that shit up. I’m not going to say that I was some edgelord or that I had a chip on my shoulder growing up. I was the senior that organized everyone in my drama club to play Pokemon so we could all have battles during rehearsals when we weren’t needed. I was a dork and still am to this day. However, I can’t say that I liked everyone in my high school. I felt that most of my classmates were exactly the kind of people that Spring Breakers made it a point to critique. They were loud, obnoxious, focused on partying and goofing off, and most of all, annoying. So yeah, I felt vindicated when I saw people that were around my age having reality slap them in the face when they thought they were going to Flordia to party.
Cynical, I know, but that wasn’t all that spoke to me about the movie. Before we had the term “Millenial” to refer to my generation, there wasn’t exactly a word that was used to accurately describe us. Pop culture defined what my generation was like and what we lived for. Songs like “Party Rock Anthem,” “Moves Like Jagger,” “California Girls,” and the complete works of Ke$ha were regurgitated over the radio. Songs that were focused on partying, living in the now, and making the most out of the present, damning the future. Basically YOLO. That was what the zeitgeist was like for high schoolers and college students, and that was the overall mood for most of the early 2010s.
Spring Breakers frames itself as a party. The movie opens with a raging party, people are getting drunk, breasts are everywhere, dubstep blaring with no abandon, and you would think that the entire movie would keep that energy going for its runtime. Instead, the next scene is watching our main girls do drugs while watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And the energy doesn’t pick up unless there’s a party going on or it reflects back on its ragers wistfully, as if those parties were simpler times. Times that were perfect.
This isn’t a movie that’s interested in the act of partying. Sure, it’s there, but the movie doesn’t care about it. Our heroines make it to spring break about 20 minutes into the movie and party for a little over 10 minutes. Their goal is met before the 45 minutes mark. But the movie smartly focuses on everything except spring break. There are parties, but how did the girls get to spring break in the first place? Well, everyone except for Selena Gomez robbed a Chicken Shack and nearly murdered a man to steal enough money to afford the vacation. They were so obsessed with getting there that they were willing to murder to get what they wanted. Why? Society told them that it’s what they wanted. Songs telling them to party and forget about the future told them to do it.
Althroughout the movie, we hear the girls and James Franco’s Alien, a rapper/drug dealer who is strangely enamored with the girls, chant “Spring Break. Spring Break forever,” or in the case of James Franco, “SPRANG BRAAAAKE. SPRANG BRAKE FOREVAAAAH.” To them, it isn’t just a time to let loose. It’s almost a religious experience. It’s reaching nirvana. It’s enlightenment, but it’s fleeting. Once they make it there and are arrested for disturbing the peace before the halfway point of the movie, the rest of the film chooses to focus on what happens outside of spring break. Sure, you’re there, but it isn’t all booze and tits. It can get dark.
The viewer is bombarded with imagery that becomes progressively darker and more unrestrained. At first, the girls are arrested and are locked up in jail. But then we get to drug dealings, muggings, holding people at gunpoint, more robberies, drive-by shootings, gang warfare, and eventually murder. You can escape from reality, but the longer you stay away from your life — actual life — the harder it is to come back. If you lose control, you may never get it back. To my younger self, Spring Breakers was a cautionary tale about losing control. Sure, having fun and partying isn’t awful, but if you do it all the time with no regard to your self or your friends then it can be self-destructive.
Adult Reflection, Rebellious Independence
So Spring Breakers is a cautionary tale? That’s what I felt growing up and you can still interpret the movie that way if you squint hard enough, right? Well, yes and no. If you examine the overall plot and the slow spiral of violence and depravity, then yes, it is a cautionary tale against losing sight of what really matters. But doing so denies the artistry in the movie and the subtext about female empowerment and self-discovery.
One point that the movie brings up multiple times is that the girls can leave spring break whenever they want. All they need to do is hop on a bus and they’re gone. Selena Gomez is the first to bail once Alien shows up and there’s no animosity between any of the characters when she announces that she wants to go home. Gomez wants to leave, everyone is okay with that, and she’s never seen from again. The same goes for Rachel Korine after she gets shot. She leaves Florida and the movie goes on. So when the remaining two girls are left with Alien after he starts making a grab for more territory, it’s not because he forced them to. They’re there because they want to be there. It’s entirely their decision.
In a lesser movie, Alien would have been the bad guy that is holding the girls hostage or is blackmailing them into staying, conscribing themselves into his turf war because he’s an egomaniac. However, and I can’t stress this enough, Alien is a moron. He gloats about how much cool shit he has, how many guns he owns, how he’s like Scarface, and that he’s dangerous in the same way some white kid with the twitter handle Joshyboyswagdoe is dangerous. There’s a scene where the two of the girls are in bed with him and they take two of his guns and jam them both into his mouth. They say that they can blow his brains out, steal his money, and leave him to die, and the look on Alien’s face is one of pure stupidity. He walked himself into this situation and could nearly get himself murdered but is somehow spared by the girls because there would be no fun in him dying and that he filates the two guns. Again, these are the same girls that nearly murdered a guy in a Chicken Shack for bus fare. They wouldn’t hesitate to kill Alien for tens of thousands of dollars. Alien is a dumbass who thinks he’s the main character of the movie, but no one wants to tell him he’s just a side character.
No one forced the girls to go to spring break. They wanted to go because it was their own decision. They chose to rob the Chicken Shack and get involved with Alien. So when the girls and Alien start committing crimes it’s shown in an almost euphoric light. Brittney Spears plays in the background, everything is slowed down, and we see the remaining girls truly alive. It’s empowering. They lost themselves in the chaos, but also found themselves and who they really were. Most of these girls are bad people, but they’re okay with that. At least they know who they are now.
Even the abundance of ass shots and bare breasts feel less like smut but as just a part the environment of spring break. Whenever we see someone whip out their breasts or twerk like there’s no tomorrow, it comes across like its a part of life. They may be on plenty of drugs and drunk, but they still have control and choice in the matter. Everything is consensual here. Alien has a threesome with the girls because he thinks that they’re his soulmates and the two girls have no problem with it. When a random girl on spring break shows up half-naked, she’s glowing with joy. The camera may ogle over the girls, and at first it can come across as basic titillation, but honestly it came across more like shock value than anything else, especially given that the bulk of the bare naked ladies are in the first five minutes of the movie. Over time we still see lady bits, but they lose all meaning by the end of the movie. They’re a part of achieving nirvana. Sex is normalized. It’s no big deal.
Is Spring Breakers a flawless movie? Not at all. The writing is pretty clunky and despite their best efforts, none of the ladies can make their dialogue sound natural. James Franco does a phenomenal job as Alien and the only reason his dialogue works so well is because his character is meant to be an idiot. But even despite its script, the themes and ideas are all there. This is a critique of what happens when people are told by pop culture what they want. They want to party and be free. They want to live that crazy college life and live in the now, but the movie tells us that there are repercussions to those decisions.
That being said, Spring Breakers lets the audience know that there are some benefits to completely letting yourself go. You can find out who you truly are. What are you willing to do? Will you stay in a bad situation or leave? If you do stay, how will you handle it? Will you give in to the depravity and sin and just embrace it, or will you realize when things turn south that it isn’t the life you want?
It’s a disservice to think of Spring Breakers as a movie with just a lot of asses in it. If you’re put off by all of the ass shots and think that the movie is just an excuse to show college T&A, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You’re weaving a narrative that the movie isn’t telling. It’s a think piece about pop culture, self-discovery, feminism, and psychological/physical temptation. It’s a movie that begs to be analyzed at a deeper level and shouldn’t be known as “Disney Starlettes Gone Wild.” It’s just Spring Breakers. A completely weird, insane, brilliant piece of trash that challenges you to think about it.