You know how in Gladiator Russell Crowe is always having visions of his home? He’s wading through wheat and sees his wife and child. Or maybe you remember The Thin Red Line and the soldier dreaming of the love he left? She’s lit like an angel, a perfect vision. In both films, these are the characters’ idyllic ideas of paradise. Well in writer/director Harmony Korine’s new film Spring Breakers the main characters’ idea of heaven is a hedonistic spring break that never ends. The film is an exploration of this thesis writ large in a burst of neon day-glo, breasts, booze, and guns. It’s a movie that can be approached a number of ways, and is sure to be misappropriated left and right, and I think this only makes it more brilliant.
There’s nothing to the story. Four college friends desperate for escape do whatever it takes to make sure they find one. Their hard partying finds them under the spell of a self-styled gangsta who goes by the name Alien (James Franco). Things spiral from there. Now picking apart the vacancy of Britney Spears-worshiping youth may be low-hanging fruit, but the film takes it to a more disturbing and artistic level. It’s a little bit like what Lynch did with green lawns and picket fences in Blue Velvet. Everything seems alright on the surface but something dark lurks underneath. In Spring Breakers the dark thing is a black hole. I don’t think the film is damning all of society, but what to make of people with such soulless dreams? Something has gone wrong when so many find spirituality in false idols.
The four girls barely register as people let alone fleshed out characters. I could tell you Selena Gomez plays Faith, the good girl of the bunch, but only because she’s the default lead for half the movie. She already has her own form of escape in Christianity but it’s a poorly aimed extra shot that steals ammo away from the main target. As for the other girls, I couldn’t really tell you their names or distinguish between them without looking it up. Gomez and the others, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashely Benson, and Rachel Korine are fine in the movie but they’re just window dressing. We’re not meant to know them because it’s not a film about arcs or likeable characters. I wouldn’t even say I had empathy for any of them. At the most I’d say I pitied them.
The film’s fullest creation is James Franco as Alien. Franco is absolutely incredible here. Sporting cornrows, a full grill, tattoos, and shorts of every color, the actor disappears. He speaks in meme-able phrases with a slight drawl stealing every scene. He’s a borderline caricature, as is the whole movie. However, Franco doesn’t mock the role. The character doesn’t realize what a joke he is so Franco plays him without self-awareness and in turn this lends him a hint of danger. The conviction of Franco, as well as Alien, is frightening. Whether he’s showing off his shit or crooning a teen-pop “classic”, Franco is mesmerizing.
It’s true that the film uses that which it condemns for its own entertainment purposes but so what. It’s a raucous trip shot wonderfully using MTV aesthetics turned on their ass and strung out like a fragmented nightmare. The club imitating score from Cliff Martinez and Skrillex balances the beats perfectly with the ironies. It all leads to a pseudo-Scarface finale because of course. I’m sure the film will follow in the same footsteps as Scarface and Fight Club where some of the audience misses the point and copycats accordingly. It’s just another example of the emptiness Spring Breakers represents. It’s a strange fantasy with the reality line constantly shifting. It’s a little cautionary, a little moralist, and a lot of fun. But like Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, partying “forevuh” makes you nothing more than a jackass.