Editor’s Note: Predominantly spoilers… also great writing.
I must make an admission, I have just got back from a ‘lads holiday’ in Cancun during spring break and returned to the press storm that is Spring Breakers. I just had to check it out.
However let’s just say my experience didn’t ring true with what I was seeing on the screen. It bore a slight resemblance – yes there were beaches, Bolivian, booze and bikinis – but this is Korine-land, and everything here is bigger, prettier and more exciting. Heartfelt goodbyes take place in front of frozen sunsets, revelations are made during the magic hour where the sky turns as pink as the girls’ bikini tops and everything has a sharp neon glow.
The film is ludicrous and gratuitous, but you get the feeling that Korine wants you to be aware of this. That doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t touch on something real behind all the bravado and bikinis. Yes, the film is pure fantasy, perhaps not everybody’s fantasy, but there are plenty of kids from between the coasts of America that will have sat out on the lawn and daydreamed about the kind of freedom and debauchery on display (in hyper inflated terms) in Spring Breakers.
Love him or hate him, Korine and his cinematographer Benoît Debie have a deft touch when it comes to film making. The use of music, thanks to help from teenage America’s new favourite Skrillex and Drive’s composer Cliff Martinez, is atmospheric. It’s touches like the flipping of the opening track, the full screaming and shouting dubstep version of Skrillex’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, into a strings only cover of the same track for the all-guns-blazing finale that firmly set Korine apart from most.
The early heist scene that sets up the thin plot could have been shot as a straight down the line action sequence. Instead Korine keeps his camera in the car of the getaway driver, offering little glimpses into the carnage inside.
His colour pallet and use of montage, especially in painting the depressing suburban life (is there a worse place to be a teenager?) of middle (or, judging by the accents, Southern) America, against the sun kissed, white sandy revelry of Florida is a beautifully edited contrast.
Scenes linger in the memory after the credits have rolled. Two that stick out are a ridiculous piano recital in front of a baby pink sky at dusk and the final scene involving a speedboat, pink balaclavas and a neon pink (spotting a trope here?) lit pier.
Much has been made of the casting in the pre-release PR, and this has proved to be a promotional masterstroke. The controversy of casting ex-Disney stars to snort, shoot and shag their way across Florida Keys, while not asking them to do too much actual acting means a win/win for the studio. The star of the show though, is James Franco.
As the wigga drug dealer Alien, Franco is the epitome of the 21st century cult of gangster. He is all bravado and big statements, but there is a fragility that Franco brings to the facade. This is unfortunately made explicit in one swimming pool scene where he is repeatedly asked if he’s scared. It’s obvious that he is and that he is far more comfortable posing with his sub-machine guns in the comfort of his own home than actually using them to advance his own ends.
The beauty of this casting is just as pointed as that of Benson, Gomez and Hudgens though. This is the modern day renaissance man, a film maker, poet, author and actor, Franco is currently working on directorial debuts that include heavyweight adaptations of William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy novels. Surely he can see the irony behind Korine’s script? For all his brains Franco has a track record of not taking himself too seriously though (see This Is the End, Pineapple Express, Freaks and Geeks or even Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and does a standout job of imitating the wannabe gangster here without pushing it to the level of full on parody.
The pathetic comedy of his character is represented in the symbols of modern day greed, or bling, the number plate on his car reads BALLR and he wears a gold teeth grill. He drops poetry and plays the piano but there is no substance to it, he wants to appear a man of the world but really he is still the scared poser that set out to stack dollar bills and nothing else (it’s the American dream y’all).
Ah yes, money. Money is Korine’s canvas here, it tints everything. There are showers of money, Alien sleeps on a mattress of money, all the girls want is money and in Alien they find a kindred spirit. It’s a brutal, bitter and overt representation of hypercapitalism and the American dream, and Alien tells us this fact over and over again.
Yes, the girl’s transformation from what Alien calls ‘angels’ to cold hearted criminals seems hyperaccelerated, but the sense of reality is parchment thin throughout Spring Breakers. There is minimal to no characterisation, very little moral ambiguity, these people are simply terrible (but look how much fun they’re having!).
The only attempt at giving the action a moral compass comes from Selena Gomez’s character Faith. As her subtle name suggests Faith is the religious one who is led astray before eventually getting out when Alien arrives on the scene. However it’s impossible to think that her presence serves any other purpose but to allow Korine to have a cheap pop at religion. The character has no depth and is easily led off her virtuous path, the film gains from her departure.
What the film admittedly lacks in plot and deep characterisation it makes up in style and concept. The constant speculation over how ironic Korine is actually being about society will be debated in pubs and student unions across the UK and US. But it’s the presentation of the dark fantasies of America’s disengaged youth that should be more than enough to hold the audience’s interest, if the naked breasts and gratuitous violence don’t already that is.
This, is a film of contrasts. There are moments where there is a deftness of touch that gives the whole thing a delicious sense of irony. But it then panders to the frat boy audience that was courted in the pre-film promo tour and reverts to the tropes of the exploitation film that Spring Breakers would appear to be on paper, or if placed in to the wrong hands.
What I have picked up from most of the critical response to the film is twofold: there is either a prudish reaction to the material coming from over-the-hill critics, or an over thinking of the concept and irony levels present on screen.
What I say? Get crunk, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Sprang Break Forever B****es
One more spoiler-laden observation:
The ending: for all its ridiculousness (it drew laughs in the nearly empty cinema screen where I watched it) did strike a chord with me. Earlier in the film Alien spoke about the fact that he can “play Scarface on a loop.” The classic gangster flick has clearly influenced his stilted world view and self-image as an untouchable drug lord, but the girls don’t find the idea ridiculous, they find it sexy.
This scene hints towards the ending, where the girls play out their own Tony Montana moment, storming into the rival gang leader’s home and blowing away his bodyguards at will, all while wearing the most incredible pink unicorn emblazoned balaclavas. The scene is played out without their male mentor though, who is shot within seconds of stepping off the speedboat. This is Scarface flipped on its head. These are young girls who are so hyped up on money and power that they feel invincible, but Korine makes them invincible. They even literally drive off in to the sunset. I couldn’t stop grinning when the credits came up.