The ideals of freedom, paradise and the American dream pulse in a neon coloured, bubble-gum scented descent into darkness in ‘Spring Breakers’, one of the most potent pieces of satire and filmmaking to hit the screen so far this year.
A group of college students rob a local restaurant to pay for a trip to Florida for a spring break vacation. While on holiday the girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) indulge in wild parties that puts them on crash course with a local rapper/drug dealer, Alien (James Franco).
Writer/director Harmony Korine opens the film with scenes that would make the citizens of Sodom blush. Rampant sexual gesticulation, lots of bare breasts and a gluttonous use of alcohol: this is spring break. From the oceanfront Korine suddenly cuts to quiet scenes at a college of students studying. The ideal of spring break is established as a form of escapism verses the clinical halls of knowledge they inhabit. We’re introduced to the four girls who seem to live in poor circumstances despite being able to afford college tuition and drugs. One can only assume these are serial parent moochers, a small hint at the themes prevalent in the film of a generation who wants all the fun without any of the hard work. Korine best showcases the girl’s mindset during a robbery sequence where the group shade themselves from any consequences by treating the situation like a videogame; the line between reality and fantasy is blurred and continues throughout the film. They fearlessly don balaclavas and enter the diner projecting aggression and threatening the customers with sledgehammers and water pistols that look like real guns. They aren’t emulating Robin Hood, but instead, it’s a case of robbing the poor to fulfill a selfish desire.
Once in the sunny climate of Florida, it’s disturbing watching the girls let go of their inhibitions and be brainwashed by the tacky surroundings on offer. It’s a manufactured form of paradise, pools, cheap grog and plastic people, that are personified by the artificial neon lighting that consumes the expertly crafted visuals of cinematographer Benoit Debie. Let’s not kid ourselves though, spring break is something that actually exists in our society as a rite of passage for many American college students and it appears in different forms around the world. To be shocked at the behaviour is to simply ignore that this is the kind of stupid activity young people pass off as fun, because stupidity is ingrained in the universal class 2013. It’s when the party becomes a chosen lifestyle that these girls become seriously jaded as they scream “spring break forever” and wish their lives could stay frozen in a drug fueled stupor. Korine does bog the film down in repetition as if to hammer the point harder with dialogue and indulgent scenes that run a little too long after they have done their job.
Gomez and Hudgens shred their Disney contracts and it’s clever casting from Korine to throw two wholesome faces to the wolves in Spring Breakers, but Gomez does retain a little purity with her character’s muddled Christian undertones. It’s Hudgens with the help of Benson and Rachel Korine who are a complete force of nature together that borders on a demonic coven of gun toting witches. The descent of the trio into the shadows is fascinating and gripping.
Franco’s Alien is a delusional incarnation of an American success story as well as showing the notoriety placed on people with zero talent chasing fame. Alien’s riches come from crime yet his indulgences in music and belief in the absurd rhymes that slither from his lips result in a false prophet born from garbage with a mouth full of metal in place of teeth. Franco is fantastic and a Britney Spears musical moment featuring Alien, a piano and a bit of ‘gun ballet’ is a sublime piece of satire of the trash tabloid culture that infects our popular consciousness and people’s aspirations in life.
The musical contribution from dance outfit Skrillex trash and pound you into each situation engaging your primal instincts to react to the visceral images of excess and violence on screen, while the score from Cliff Martinez and Gucci Mane shines in the reflective moments between the chaos.
As Captain Benjamin L. Willard took the river journey of madness to find Colonel Kurtz in ‘Apocalypse Now’, so too does Korine with his bikini clad crew in ‘Spring Breakers’. The battlefront for hearts and minds has changed in the pursuit of liberty, and it’s a scummy but enlightening reflection of the western world.
The Popcorn Junkie