Make Your Child Watch Spring Breakers

June 13, 2013 12:00 pm

With Spring Breakers ready to be released on Blu-Ray in over a month, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subversive hit. When I initially heard about Spring Breakers, I was immediately sold on the concept of a movie involving Disney Channel girls wearing bikinis and doing devious acts while hanging out with a gold-toothed James Franco. That, in addition to the fact that Harmony Korine – the writer of Kids and director of Gummo – was helming it, made it, in my book, a must-see. But did it live up to the hype?

The answer is an unconventional, ‘yes,’ Spring Breakers does live up to its hype in many ways, but will ultimately letdown its core demographic of teenage girls who saw the poster and thought, ‘omg a movie about spring break with James Franco and the cast of High School Musical? I must see this!’ Despite the premise being fairly comical, Spring Breakers is as dark as they come.

From the moment the film begins, you’re hit with a Skrillex track and a slow motion sequence of beer guzzling, drug using, sexually promiscuous college students partying in Florida. Closely resembling footage from those old, early-2000s Spring Break specials on MTV, you won’t see anything shocking here, except for a couple of topless girls with small breasts. While entertaining and more than tolerable at first, it becomes increasingly revolting the longer the sequence goes. Yes, I just said that watching topless girls rub beer on their tits was revolting. After about a minute and a half, the track cuts and we’re suddenly thrust into the seedy, unseen world that lays just beneath the surface.

We’re introduced to Selena Gomez’ character, Faith, who by no coincidence is a very young, impressionable, church-going girl. Faith is friends with three others whom she happens to share little in common with: Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine.) The four teenagers do happen to have one particular goal in mind, though: to leave their hometown and spend spring break in Florida. Realizing that they lack the sufficient funds to do so, three of the four girls enact a plan to rob a local diner to make up the difference. Using squirt guns, Candy and Brit successfully do so, with Cotty playing getaway driver. Faith, meanwhile, is left unaware of how the money is obtained. Pooling their cash together, the four leave to go down south.

Each of these girls represents a notch in a ladder of corruptness. Faith, being no more than a follower, is at the bottom of that ladder. As the film’s protagonist, we get to know her inner-workings and intentions quite personally, and it’s evident that she is unlike the other girls. The second rung on that ladder is Cotty, the getaway driver. She tends to dabble here and there with the ‘dark side’ of life but doesn’t subscribe to it the same way that Candy and Brit do. That becomes all the more clear once James Franco’s character, Alien, is introduced.

After a wild afternoon of snorting coke off of potentially underage tits, the four girls are locked up with a pair of unsavory twins associated with Franco’s Alien. Alien, a high profile drug dealer, bails out the twins along with the four after one girl confesses in court to having no money to opt out of serving jail time. We’re lead to believe that Alien has malicious intentions, and he certainly gives off a ‘creepy’ vibe, but a full sense of malevolence is never fully realized.  

Once a proper introduction is had, Alien takes the girls to a get-together. To the shock of literally no one, it is loaded with many suspicious characters, each hitting on and groping the lot of them. Faith is deeply disturbed by this, breaks down, and pleads to her friends that they should go home immediately. That, of course, is met with zero agreement.

To Faith’s credit, however, she takes a stand – unlike a plethora of other lead characters in countless other films. Wisely, and without the support of her friends, she chooses to go home. That’s right. Fifty minutes into the movie, we kiss our protagonist ‘goodbye’ and suddenly the focus shifts to Alien of all people. Korine obviously took a page out of the Hitchcock playbook in doing so, although Selena Gomez’ character meets a much better fate than Janet Leigh’s in Psycho.

Alien, who is initially set up to be the film’s antagonist, is forced to embrace the limelight and becomes the movie’s lead. As a result, the film picks up greatly both in speed and in entertainment. Franco is naturally charismatic and easy to watch despite his character’s (alleged) rotten nature.

Involved in grimy, underworld activities, you assume Alien to be a ‘bad guy.’ He brags about doing everything there is that’s illegal, how he enjoys acting upon destructive urges, and yes – he does, indeed, rob and assault a number of people (with the three remaining girls) in a slow motion sequence that is brilliantly set to Britney Spears’ “Everytime.”

However, as the film unfolds, you begin to get the vibe that it isn’t just Franco’s genuinely charming nature that makes Alien less believable as a villain. Alien, to a T, is nothing more than a persona. And once you realize that as an audience member, you feel almost stupid for not having caught on sooner. Don’t get it twisted, though, Alien is not a good guy by any means. From the braided hair, grill-locked teeth, and pasty skin to the acts of mild violence and hesitancy to kill his one-time best friend – a rival drug dealer named Archie (Gucci Mane) – Alien is a poser. He’s crazy, but a poser none-the-less.

Alien is basically a grown up version of one of those late-1990s white kids that considers themselves ‘hard’, idolizes Scarface, and is infatuated with the ‘gangster’ lifestyle despite lacking any sort of fundamental backbone to actually live it. His house is large, his gun collection, stocked, but Alien doesn’t have the balls to kill anybody. He’s a tough guy with a gun and nothing more. And thus, he becomes a rung in the ladder of corruptness.

Nearing the end of the film, Cotty is shot in the arm by one of Archie’s hired goons and like Faith before her, boards a bus back home to safety. Alien then constructs a plan to put out a hit on Archie, as an act of revenge, all while becoming intimately attached to Brit and Candy. These two girls, having been noted at the start of the film for having ‘demonic souls’ – or something of that matter, go along with the plan without the slightest bit of hesitation. As the plot slowly begins to reach fruition, the girls mock Alien for being scared. Korine beats you over the head with this notion roughly three or four times before getting right down to the action. Once it occurs, the audience is met with yet another surprise. Alien takes a bullet to the head almost immediately and doesn’t even get the chance to fire his gun. The two girls, unfazed by his death, go on the bullet-frenzied rampage without their leader and wipe out just about every single member of Archie’s crew as well as Archie, himself. With that, the ladder is completed and Candy and Brit take their rightful spots at the top.

Spring Breakers is, without a doubt, Harmony Korine’s most fulfilling and enriched movie to date. Korine’s fascination with exploring society’s morally-undeveloped individuals and their habitats fits well with the Florida backdrop and today’s confused, conforming, and shallow youth. That’s not to say that Spring Breakers is without flaws, though.

In terms of editing, repetition is Korine’s fetish and it doesn’t always work. Scenes and lines are repeated to add effectiveness, even when the message he is trying to convey is obvious. A solid fifteen minutes could’ve been trimmed from the final cut and it would’ve likely made the movie run smoother. The first half drags and feels longer than it actually is, but aside from that – I can’t find any other complaints regarding the film, itself. 

For all intents and purposes, this is James Franco’s best performance to date. This is his film. Period. Each of the four actresses deliver satisfactory performances but it should be no surprise to anyone that Franco steals the show.

Considering that the soundtrack predominantly consists of tracks by Skrillex, along with a few Britney Spears singles, it’s shocking how well the use of pop and dubstep music works here. Cliff Martinez, the composer of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, scored the soundtrack and unsurprisingly does a fantastic job of doing so.

In the end, Spring Breakers is likely to leave its general audiences either scratching their heads or going, ‘well that sucked.’ For those that can identify and understand the subtext hidden beneath its glossy, neon-colored surface, it’ll provide a noteworthy theater-going experience, and hopefully a clearer reflection of the deep-seeded issues that plague our current generation. Harmony Korine’s talent is fully realized here and in creating this ethnocentric evaluation of today’s youth, he crafts one of the most important, original, and enigmatic films of the past ten years.

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