One thing you can say about Spring Breakers is it’s not a middle-of-the-road kind of movie, and its bound to inspire strong opinions on both ends of the scale. Another thing you can say about Spring Breakers is that it’s an artless kind of art film, an inch of a movie that dreams — desperately — of being deep.
The film by Harmony Korine (Kids, Gummo) is described by the studio as “a crime comedy-drama thriller,” which I can only assume means everybody wanted to make sure this adolescent fantasy of a music video had every base covered. More specifically, the movie is about four college students (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) who want to go to St. Petersburg, Florida for Spring Break, badly enough that they’re willing to break rules (and laws) to get there. The only one to hesitate at all is Faith (Gomez), and that’s only after they hook up with James Franco‘s drug dealing Alien.
Let’s point out something that’s probably already obvious: Spring Breakers wants to speak to its audience, but it chooses to do so with a bullhorn and a sledgehammer. Faith is a “good girl,” who calls her grandma to let her know she’s alright and attends cool-kid Bible study when she’s at school. When they meet Alien, it’s like meeting someone from another world. GET IT? (The names of the other women are unimportant because, really, the audience is never given a reason to care. Faith is the only one to get any kind of characterization, and even then it’s only enough to give her a second dimension. It’s not surprising that she gets on a bus about halfway through and literally leaves the movie, never to be seen again.)
From there, things quickly fall apart, fueled in equal parts by Alien’s hip-hop hillbilly influence and the girls’ own tendency toward self-destructive mayhem. Booze, drugs, money and guns take their toll on the group until it all ends in a sequence that is amazing in its unbelievability.
It doesn’t help that the 10 pages of dialogue on display is terrible, wooden and often veers directly, with no tap of the brakes, into the ridiculous. The acting is non-existent with the exception of Franco, who single-handedly keeps the movie afloat with his addictively hilarious, over-the-top performance. Franco brings a clownish menace to Alien, and I’d be willing to bet that much of his highly quotable dialogue was improvised. The film’s structure is ambitious and interesting, and while it could have worked, it just ends up being repetitive and repetitive. The way the film is edited winds up being a cinematic version of dubstep, and though it’s clear Korine is enamored with the idea of “atmosphere,” what’s left is ultimately just as substantial.
A friend of mine saw Spring Breakers with my wife and I, and he has a theory. The film, he says, might be a statement on everything it puts on display. And by extension it’s an indictment of the audiences who watch movies that really are that superficial, and who, reality-TV style, get a thrill out of watching the corruption of a couple of former Disney princesses. If that’s true, then Korine is a genius, a subversive filmmaker who has fed the viewers exactly the kind of artificial, unhealthy buffet of boobs and bullets we’ve learned to gorge ourselves on, served wrapped up in a package as bland and familiar as Styrofoam.
I’m willing to concede that this might be true; there is certainly enough in the way the movie is made to support that. But there is also plenty to lend weight to the idea that Spring Breakers is just a dumb, dumb movie.
Franco really does pull off a great Krispy Kreme, though.