REVIEW: Spring Breakers [2013]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 94 minutes | Release Date: March 15th, 2013 (USA)
Studio: A24
Director(s): Harmony Korine
Writer(s): Harmony Korine

“He’s going to give you a way out”

Writer/director Harmony Korine has created an anthem for the hedonistic American Dream of hustling, fucking, and giving the middle finger to the consequences. It only feels this good when the stakes are high enough to barely make it out alive, after all. This is the balls-to-the-wall atmosphere cultivated when sex-crazed co-eds leave the real world behind for a week of unadulterated fun in the sun at interchangeable Pleasure Islands—churches to sin the titular Spring Breakers have visited for decades in pure electric anonymity and reinvention. Watching Korine’s opening montage capture silent roars, bare breasts, and neon colors in an alcoholic haze against Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” is both an ideal to achieve and cautionary tale of excess for those cringing to think their kids may be populating the background. It’s all a matter of perspective.

This is the imagery juxtaposed throughout as a reminder of the “harmless” lust on beaches amidst booze, drugs, and lechery our naïve but not so innocent quartet of girls hope to bask in themselves far away from a hometown prison shackling them with boredom and obscurity. There’s wild child Cotty (Korine’s wife Rachel), rebellious dabblers Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Brit (Ashley Benson), and Catholic goody-two-shoes Faith (Selena Gomez)—former grade school chums now grown up and looking for excitement. When Faith’s busted piggybank is added to Brit’s dice winning stack of cash, though, they’re still way short of what’s necessary for bus fare, hotel accommodations, and recreational paraphernalia. Unable to fathom another lame break, Brit and Candy decide to amp up the adrenaline early by robbing the local Chicken Shack with vodka-filled guns.

It’s a gorgeously shot sequence from the passenger side of the El Camino Cotty drives around the restaurant so we can witness the carnage through carefully timed window passes. Donning ski-masks and smashing everything in sight with mallets, Brit and Candy make out with every last dollar before piling back into the stolen car, torching it, and giddily telling Faith their ticket had been punched. Spring break was on, Florida a reality, and the insanity of bath bubble-filled hotel rooms and cocaine snorts off women’s chests a sight they’ll no longer only imagine experiencing from quiet bedrooms miles and miles away. This fun comes at a price, though, and there won’t always be a sleepy town greasy spoon to knock over on a whim. Trouble in the city is conquered by luck and/or wealth.

Enter St. Pete’s native, criminal extraordinaire, and budding rap artist Alien (James Franco) to save the day with a little of his hard-earned cheese posted as bail money. The Oscar nominated actor—who may earn another nod for this character—is all tattoos, cornrows, sunglasses, grill, and swagger. He’s a hustler with a heart of gold buying the good graces of four hotties bad enough to go to jail and hopefully dirty enough to repay the favor. The mansion with a piano by the pool, wall-to-wall automatic weaponry, and stacks of Benjamins in every room definitely helps loosen their inhibitions but his charismatically unspoken promise to give them exactly what they coveted upon traveling down to Florida is all they really needed. Escalating events may cause some to go home, but those left behind relish the danger.

Sex, drugs, and dubstep—this is the 21st century’s teen generation’s idea of memories. But as we soon learn, that trifecta isn’t enough to satisfy everyone once the thrill of mortality rears its head. Edited to the score’s out of sync beats with flashbacks, flash forwards, and voiceover monologues/singing/half-baked prophesy, Spring Breakers’ pacing somehow slows to a crawl as the escapades on screen become more and more perilous. With help from their escort, the girls can’t wipe away the glee as they begin shoving loaded weapons into the faces of kids no different than they were a couple days previous while we in the audience begin to squirm with discomfort in the realization that no good can result. Voices repeat, the colored glow of light tinting every frame increases, and fantasy becomes its unavoidable, nightmarish antithesis.

It’s trashy, stunning, authentic, and hyper-real simultaneously and alternatingly depending on the mood Korine hopes to set. These girls become antiheroes rising above our preconceptions of their real-life Disney personas becoming victims of a world they’re unprepared for, empowered by homicidal tendency to unflinchingly wreak havoc on anyone stupid enough to rain on their parade. Tears are shed, bullets are taken, and the alluring power of guns is made synonymous with the pleasure of sexual longing and attraction mistaken as a warped sense of love. There is a lesson being taught, but it isn’t what you’d initially guess because this circus isn’t to show how our innocent children may end up prey to a dark and unlawful lifestyle. Korine instead looks to depict how much they actually yearn to enter it willingly and with arms wide open.

Gabriella Montez and Alex Russo are no more. Gomez retains some of the former’s baby-faced naiveté, but the High School Musical starlet is completely reimagined as a troublemaking minx ready and willing for anything. I’ve never seen “Pretty Little Liars”, but Benson may not be too far removed besides the bloodlust and sociopathic mindset. Rachel Korine surely helped them get up to speed on her husband’s aesthetic—one they appear to embrace as their way to exit the tween phases of their careers—as they find themselves outdoing even her wild child shtick. The most memorable piece to the puzzle, however, is Franco’s unforgettable Alien. Hilarious and terrifying, he chews scenery while still embodying this creature with realism in the process. He becomes their God and they swiftly gulp his Kool-aid, always in wait for another glass.

[1] Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson in Annapurna Pictures’ Spring Breakers (2013)
[2] James Franco stars as Alien in Annapurna Pictures’ Spring Breakers (2013)
[3] Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens and Rachel Korine in Annapurna Pictures’ Spring Breakers (2013)

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