[This is a re-post of my review from the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Spring Breakers opens today in limited release.]
Harmony Korine‘s Spring Breakers is a wild, aggressive, mildly disturbing, darkly comic, and surprisingly thoughtful film about hedonism so thick you’ll about to choke on it. For college kids who feel entitled to a good time and never want the party to stop, Spring Breakers takes their debauched desires, and plays them out to a grotesque degree where the characters are tested in how far they’ll go to keep the passion of spring break burning forever (the other burning will require penicillin). Complimented by the glorious stunt casting of James Franco as a goofy drug dealer, Spring Breakers defies simple explanation, and sends the audience spinning as we grasp for some kind of anchor in this sweaty mosh pit of a movie.
College girls Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine), and Faith (Selena Gomez) are hungry to go on spring break. They need to escape from their small college town, and feel entitled to their birth right of binging, hedonism, and having as much fun as they want for as long as they want. Short on the cash they need to make it to spring break, Brit, Candy, and Cotty rob a restaurant, and use the money to go a magical time of dancing, drinking, grinding, smoking, snorting, and the other markers of recklessly abandon. After blowing through all their money, the quartet ends up getting arrested for disorderly conduct, but they’re released from jail after their fine is paid by the drug-dealing Alien (Franco). Thinking that the girls are easy prey to hit it and quit it, Alien discovers that Brit, Candy, and Cotty are far from ordinary party girls.
Watching people party in movies tends to be boring. It’s not like watching the food network, and you’re hit with a desire to start cooking. Korine makes his point from the get go when he shows us a spring break party so lurid that it feels like the Visigoths are going to charge in at any second and sack Florida. We drown in a sea of bare breasts, ripped pecks, beer funnels, and makeshift bongs. In Spring Breakers, we don’t want to join the party. We’re just grateful chlamydiae isn’t airborne.
But for the girls, they crave this depraved land. It’s in their blood, and they romanticize the experience. “I’m starting to think this is the most spiritual place I’ve ever been,” Faith narrates over slow motion shots of swaying breasts, scooter rides, and guys using beer bottles to ejaculate alcohol over grateful bimbos. And if spring break is a holiday, literally a “holy day”, then Alien is its patron saint. He is its sleazy symbol of excess beyond excess, and yet he still doesn’t match the intensity of Brit, Candy, and Cotty (who are basically one person since they don’t have distinct personalities). These are girls who tell each other, “You’ve got to be hard. Don’t be afraid of anything,” before they rob the restaurant.
Spring Breakers opens the door for some fascinating discussions of gender power and sexuality. But the serious stuff never becomes overbearing when you put a character like Alien at the forefront. Once he enters the picture, Alien almost takes over as Franco explodes off the screen. He merrily chews every piece of scenery with his silver grill, but always makes sure his character fits within Korine’s twisted vision where lines like “the water is pretty, but the sharks are waiting,” stand as zen wisdom, and a crime spree is set to Brittany Spears’ “Everytime.”
Korine shows us a world that is loathsome, selfish, and profane, yet we can’t look away. His film manifests a kind of anti-fun, where we’re stuck on a queasy roller coaster ride that’s never meant to end. Scenes circle around, narration is repeated, time is a blur, and the party never stops. It’s The Real Cancun if that movie actually showed the real Cancun. We don’t join the party, but Spring Breakers makes sure we’re entranced by those who never leave it.