[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of South by Southwest 2013. It is being reposted to coincide with the film’s wide release.]
Spring break is the ultimate form of adolescent debauchery. It’s a candy-coated dream fantasy filled with excessive sex, drugs, and alcohol. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just experience spring break forever? We could just lounge around in pastel-colored beaches drinking drinks with umbrellas in them.
If only, if only…
Director: Harmony Korine
Release Date: March 10, 2013 (SXSW), March 22, 2013 (wide)
As spring break approaches, Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine) can’t wait to escape their boring school lives for anything different. Seduced by the promise of a life-changing experience, the girls go to great lengths to fund their trip. Once they find themselves in sunny Florida, everything is forgotten as they party non-stop.
Faith, the most repressed of the group, feels as if she’s truly found herself in the flurry of drugs and alcohol, even going so far as to invite her grandmother to spring break the following year. However, the fantasy quickly comes crashing down as the girls are arrested. Luckily for them, local rapper and gangster, Alien (James Franco), bails them out. Not wanting to end their spring break experience, the girls decide to stay with Alien to continue living the dream. But as we all know, every dream has to end sometime.
Spring Breakers is as brightly-colored as Miami is. Every scene glows with a neon, candy-colored sheen, while excessive lens flares help create the notion of one really long music video. While the film is admittedly more style than substance, the visual tone serves as a contrast to the film’s theme of hedonistic debauchery. But really, the cinematography is so much more compelling than the narrative. Those that go into Spring Breakers expecting something more akin to Kids or Gummo will come out disappointed.
The narrative is loose, full of repeating motifs that echo across the main cast, such as every actors’ voiceover of “Spring break… spring break forever…” It’s an admittedly nice touch to help link every scene together, but also comes off as an attempt to be more compelling. Sure, the concept of girls living out a fantasy, then doing whatever it takes to ensure the fantasy lasts as long as possible, is a bit interesting, but it doesn’t have the same emotional bite that Korine is known for.
But maybe that was a conscious decision on his part? After all, spring break is nothing but style over substance. If that’s the case, then he very obviously found a way to extend this theme from beyond the editing and cinematography to encapsulate the entire film. However, don’t take this as a slight against the actors and their performances.
Franco’s performance as the over-the-top Alien is honestly one of the best roles I’ve seen him play since 127 Hours. He devoted himself completely into the role. Little nuances from his manner of walking to the twang in his voice helped create this otherworldly character that, oddly, isn’t really out of this world. He’s an amalgamation of a few rappers and personalities, and the outrageous behavior in which he plays fits this idea of the spring break fantasy.
Not to mention, outside of the bikini-clad cast, his character had the most personality. Every character follows an arc detailing how the experience helped develop and shape their characters, but Alien’s was just so much more compelling than the others. However, the actresses themselves were able to handle the challenge of shedding their Disney images for a film full of nudity and drugs.
In a nutshell, Spring Breakers had amazing cinematography unfortunately bogged down by a surprisingly shallow narrative. The film will have people talking, whether it’s about Franco giving fellatio to a gun, the ample nudity, or these former Disney actresses in a very adult film. Audiences will get lost in the flurry of lights and partying, and isn’t that really the point of spring break?
Matthew Razak: Spring Breakers is going to be a pretty divisive film. You’re either going to get and really like what Harmony Korine is doing or you’re going to think it’s an excuse to film young girls in bikinis. I can actually understand both positions here. I for one found it endlessly interesting. Korine uses a very loose narrative structure that repeats itself often and even features the same narratives and motifs back to back to comment on the fantastical stature of spring break and the sexualization of society. By using montage to build his scenes and repeating dialog Korrine reinforms our assumptions about what is going on, creating a dichotomy between the fantasy of our party culture and the darker reality. Does it go off the rails sometimes? For sure. Is it so sexualized it gets uncomfortable at times? Definitely. This isn’t perfect, but it’s a crazy interesting movie to watch. Then again maybe you’ll just see breasts, in which case it’s a crazy creepy movie to watch. 78 — Good