Featuring: James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine
Director: Harmony Korine
Screenplay: Harmony Korine
Australian release date: Thursday, 9th May
One-word verdict: fabbo
A group of hormone-charged sorority gals, Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine), hold up a fast food joint to finance a trip south to Florida’s sunshine and beaches, where they intend to party away their spring break. When they’re arrested and escorted to the clink on drug charges, charismatic local gangster boss Alien (James Franco) bails them out, and the real fun starts…
While Spring Breakers obviously references trashy college-kids-behaving-badly flicks, it strikes a tone all its own, like Blue Velvet for example, or Pulp Fiction. It is at once derivative and startlingly original, a dream-like mind-warper of a work that opens the doors on an altered reality, edging the familiar off-tilt in an unsettling and fascinating manner.
Is it a pisstake, or does it take itself seriously? An exploitation movie, or a post-feminist female empowerment statement? A paean to popular culture, or an enraged denouncement of it? Yo.
The film opens with an extended montage of shamelessly pervy shots of pretty young thangs partying on a sun-lit beach. The shaky camera veritably sniffs at fleshy crevices twixt suntanned thighs, leers down bikini tops barely containing gorgeous goods a-shake to trippy drum and bass grooves, zooms in with voyeuristic glee when the gals get topless. There are ripped young studs in the pulsing throng, too, but the cameras are clearly and hotly hetero male in their orientation.
The beach partying goes on a long time, punctuated intermittently by the ominous sound of a gun being cocked, mixed up jarringly loud. This is a refrain that continues right through the film; it gets irritating, but keeps things pretty damned tense.
Interspersed with the gyrating beach bods are nocturnal interior scenes of bong-pulling, coke-sniffing, and sexual play that is curious in that the girls are always firmly in charge, flaunting their near-naked bodies while buff boys hang limply (sorry) in the background, politely watching on. This aggressive female exhibitionism playing to a passive – neutered, even – male audience is the mode of the sex scenes throughout. Female empowerment? Narcissism nurtured in the agar of pervasive internet porn? Whatever, something ain’t right here!
You begin wondering if anything else but partying is going to happen. It does. Just a matter of flashbacks kicking in. It soon becomes apparent that the film is all over the place chronologically, but the manic flitting back and forward is expertly managed and mercifully easy to follow.
We realise we’re not dealing with yer typical sorority cuties when the gals, still in bikinis (which they wear throughout the movie), don balaclavas and hold up a diner to fund their trip to Florida, inflicting terror on the patrons and staff with the ruthlessness and coiled violence of hardened crims.
Post-robbery, they erupt in blokey warrior whoops as they torch their getaway car, with nary a thought for the folk they’ve traumatised. The loot is everything. They kiss, smell and caress the magic paper, wash their faces in it; the mode of worship is carnal in this church of the material.
Only Faith (ha ha), the straight one of the group, doesn’t join in. Her form of worship is slightly more conventional. She attends a happy clappy Christian group led by an excruciatingly hip 30-something preacher whose shouty sloganistic sermonising culminates in a mindless group mantra of “amens”.
The theme of spiritual vacuity is picked up again when the girls hit Florida. To a backdrop of hedonistic imagery and thought-numbing dance music, one of them phones home, declaring Florida “the most spiritual place” she has experienced. It’s hilarious – erm, isn’t it?
These are the sorts of hints that run through the movie that something dark and seriously disturbing, a yawning deficit, lurks beneath the smiley dancey partying that is on such gaudy display. And the suspicion arises that director Korine is grappling with some Bigger Shit here, despairingly – savagely – rubbing our faces in our profoundly vapid culture, where the self and self-gratification is all, and humanity has left the building.
When gangster boss Alien (James Franco) appears, the movie veritably lights up, partly because he is the only character with real personality (the girls are barely distinguishable from each other), but mostly because Franco turns in a humdinger of a performance. Hugely enjoyable.
He is done up a treat, hair in cornrows, tatts everywhere, his mouth aflash with ghastly metal dental cosmetic work. Oozing charm (somehow!), he coaxes the gals back to his super deluxe lair, which is a ludicrous monument to gangster kitsch. Brandishing a rapid-fire automatic in each hand, plucked from an extensive armoury displayed on the walls, he stands on his bed like an over-sized tot and boasts of his badness, his bucks, his TV with Scarface on continuous 24 hour loop…
If he thought the girls were his playthings, he is mistaken: fingers on the triggers of loaded pistols, they subject him to a double-barrelled fellatio assault in a porn inversion scene extraordinaire. So much for those charges of exploitation pursed-lipped critics had ready to rip! Clever, Mr Korine, clever.
When it’s over, a sexually gratified Alien tenderly declares that he has found his soulmates! Terrif, but the best is yet to come.
I won’t spoil it by going into detail. Just watch for a scene in which Alien shows his “sensitive side”, serenading his new “soulmates” with an earnest rendition of Britney Spears’ love-lorn Everytime. This alone is worth the price of admission.
But it ain’t all fun and games in Alien’s world. His childhood best mate, Big Arch (Gucci Mane), is now his gangsterland rival, and a showdown is inevitable. When it comes, things don’t quite transpire as might be expected – nothing does in this delectably perverse piece.
The last scene is shot upside down. And that is emblematic of the entire movie.
This flick is going to polarise audiences. It will be scorned as vulgar exploitative trash by some. Me? I treasure these all-to-rare instances of cinema, music, literature, art, that resist meaningful critical interpretation, that demand to be taken on their own terms. And that jettison as irrelevant those who won’t accept those terms. Glorious! Transports me back to the thrilling dawn of punk rock. Suffer an old fart his sentimentality…
And don’t believe a word I say. You owe it to yourself to see Spring Breakers and make up your own mind.
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