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Spring BreakersReviewer: Philip Price

Director: Harmony Korine

Stars: James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson

Released: April 5th 2013(UK)

Spring Breakers will easily divide audiences who dare to wander into it. Not because it isn’t necessarily what the marketing campaign suggests it to be, but because it is a sensory overload that isn’t afraid to make a statement. In the doldrums of the early months of the year moviegoers are serviced with plenty of distractions and sometimes barren and empty spectacle, so when something comes along that challenges us that has more of a purpose than to purely entertain, but in fact has something to say it grabs your attention and if it is a good film, it won’t let you go. As I walked out of the theater after seeing the latest from director Harmony Korine (Kids) I was stuck with a sense of what an odd piece of cinema I’d just experienced. It had all the makings of a party flick, one that has been crafted to re-enforce the ritual of college kids driving down to St. Petersburg each year for a week and turning into a cess pool of drugs, alcohol, and sex. It is shot to provoke the bright, summer colors that bounce off the beaches and bikinis that are littered throughout the coastline all washed over with a sense of carelessness and no responsibility. This is no party movie in the vein of something like Project X or 21 & Over though, no, this is a film specifically designed and meticulously concocted to expose the dark side of what comes when you throw your inhibitions to the wind and give into the mind set that everything will be fine as long as you know when to stop and can return to the real world. That being easier said than done this group of girls find it hard to re-integrate into that world of order and routine and instead disregard everything they’ve ever learned for that moment of chaos.

Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Faith (Selena Gomez)
get into some trouble in Spring Breakers.

Though I’d heard much about the film before going into it I didn’t really have much of an idea of what exactly it was about or what the story would concern. The trailers have marketed this the right way, advertising the four young leads half naked in brightly colored bathing suits with an extravagantly ridiculous performance from James Franco to boot. It also doesn’t hurt that Korine was able to gather two former Disney stars into this sort of project that will forever defy them being typecast again. Ashley Benson (Pretty Little Liars) and Korine’s wife Rachel round out the group of college girls who will stop at nothing to get down to Florida and have the spring break of their dreams, you know, like the ones they see so easily and carelessly conveyed on MTV every year. Problem is, they are college girls and have no money so they must resort to robbing a local chicken shack to garner the profits needed to get them to where they want to be and provide for what they want to do. Selena Gomez plays Faith, the most conflicted of the four girls. Faith seems younger, maybe more naive, but has a certain connection to her family and to God than any of the others. Faith is tired of the boring routine her life has become though, she is eager to break the mold, have a little fun, and just escape for a few days to “find herself’ as she continues to put it. When surrounded by life long friends such as the trouble-seeking Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) the up for anything Brit (Benson) and the mother hen/craziest role model unafraid of pushing the limits Cotty (Korine) though things are bound to go much further and the girls bound to get in deeper than any of them ever expected. Fulfilling the ideals of some and scaring the others straight.

For the first half of the film Korine keeps it fun while only once dipping into the extremes these girls are willing to go to. This first half is captured with almost a documentary type approach and reminds us all of what the spring break experience is supposed to be about as a continuous shot of young, tan, fit, students jump up and down with alcohol flowing and bathing suits disappearing. It is constant club music and gyrating that you might think would grow tiresome after a while, but these kids are hopped up on too many drugs to know when to stop or when to become tired. To live on the safe side is to not live at all and so the girls throw a party in their rented hotel room where the drugs and alcohol is as free flowing as it is on the beach. This lands them in jail where they are bailed out by a guy they don’t know, but seems to have a certain affection for them. Cue James Franco as a white, corn rowed rapper with a grill overtaking his big smile and white Camaro to cruise around in with the top down so everyone might know that Alien (because he’s from another planet ya’ll) is out and about. when Franco enters the picture the tone shifts from that care free, party escapism to a film that immediately has a darker tone. We can all see what type of person Alien’s society has shaped him to be and we know his intentions are anything but pure. He bails the girls out of jail expecting something in return, yet things don’t go down the way you might expect. Franco portrays Alien as a guy ignorant to anything but what he has learned from his mentor and ex-best friend Archie (Gucci Mane) and has taken those skills to the streets in order to fulfill his extravagant needs. His materials that prove he is as big a baller as he says he is, even if we might crack the facade and see through the act not that Franco is putting on, but Alien himself. Though he is in only about half of the film he is clearly the most engaging character and more developed than the majority of the girls. Franco pulls out all the stops and takes what he did for Saul Silver and elevates them to a whole new level where Alien is as blind as he is goofy and as disturbingly charming and engaging as he is off-putting.

James Franco creates his most memorable character in Alien.

What Spring Breakers ultimately serves as though is a commentary on the youth of today and the ideas of what youth culture should be like and how they should act without any fear of consequences because it is all for the fun of it and no harm was meant. Korine intends to expose the holes in this train of thought by showing how easy it is to slip into a lifestyle that seems initially easier in terms of instant gratification but will end up killing you in the long run. In that first half of the film where cocaine is snorted from girls bear chests and stomachs and alcohol is consumed as if it is water; where unabashed teenagers strip for the rush of feeling free and grind on one another for the sexual frustration they feel society has shackled them with we see the aura of it all exposed as revolting, disgusting, and downright unsanitary. It may all seem an excuse to show naked women and bongs for no reason, but it has a point and there is a reason it is overlapped with Faith’s discussion with her Grandma. It evokes a reaction, a realization even that despite the fun that single week might provide it doesn’t sustain you for the rest of your life and it doesn’t mean more than a family member, a friend, or anyone else in your life that is important might mean. That might sound a tad bit preachy coming out of a film that is most famous for putting those Disney stars in barely there bikinis, but that is also what makes it so authentic. Much of this is due also to the performance of Gomez. I’ve not seen her in much before this, but I’ve heard her songs on the radio and can guess the image she has created with her target demographic. This will certainly throw some of them for a loop (but let’s be honest, most won’t even see it) but what she does with her role here is provoke the conflicting signals she sees and hears from the world around her. She is lost, searching for something more and there is nothing wrong with that. Where Faith decides to go embodies the lesson Korine seems keen on teaching: that maturity can grow from a place of avidity.