***This review may contain spoilers***
Spring Breakers (2013)
[Singing] “Four little chickies came down to da beach. Four little chickies got out of my reach. One little chickie got shot in the arm. That little chickie went back to the farm.” – Alien (James Franco)
Enfant Terrible. By definition: a person known for shocking remarks or outrageous behavior. Or perhaps more fitting: a usually young and successful person who is strikingly unorthodox, innovative, or avant-garde. This is a term often used (and I mean way too often, so I figured, why not join in?) to describe filmmaker Harmony Korine whose latest film Spring Breakers is the film of the moment. If you scour the Internet in search of opinions on the film, you may come across such enlightened responses as “Worst Movie Ever” or perhaps you’re more inclined to go with “This Shit Sucks”. But of course, there’s always a flip side.
Heading in to my screening of Spring Breakers, I’ll admit, although I know plenty about Harmony Korine and his presence on the independent film scene, I had yet to experience one of his films in full. Coming out of said screening, I felt like I was on a pop culture sugar-high, but my friend and I appeared to be the only ones experiencing said high. From numerous walkouts to a college-aged kid questioning his friend, “Did we just get trolled?” Spring Breakers is the kind of film that you will find as many varied opinions about as pairs of variously colored shorts James Franco’s character Alien proclaims he owns in the film.
Any discussion of the film’s merits must begin with the performance of James Franco. Seemingly the only aspect of the film that has drawn near-unanimous praise, Franco’s portrayal of Alien is one for the ages. He’s a drug dealer who bails out the female foursome of bikini-clad spring breakers whose story the film revolves around. From serenading the ladies to Britney Spears, to a monologue at his home in which he lists all the “shit” he owns, Franco is captivating. He is not only funny, but he’s also the figure on which the narrative hinges, by taking our spring breakers down the rabbit hole if you will into the seedy underbelly of what encompasses Florida’s spring break.
Of the four spring breakers, it is Selena Gomez’ character of Faith who is the most relatable and closest to being identified as an active audience member on-screen. Faith agrees to go on spring break with her friends to escape a claustrophobic existence at school, where in-between classes and smoking dope she attends prayer meetings searching for meaning to her existence. On their initial arrival in Florida she proclaims starry-eyed to her friends that this is where they were meant to be, forever, in this place and time. Happy and ignorant. The other three just laugh her off. To them, this is about boozing, snorting, dancing and nameless sexual experiences.
It is here where Alien comes in, rescuing the girls after a run-in with the law, and whisking them away to his inner circle. A rift is drawn within the group, and as some leave and some stay, the remaining spring breakers join in on one of Alien’s schemes to get revenge on his former childhood friend turned drug kingpin. A fight for the streets of Florida, with college co-eds taking on gangsters, a true fairy-tale if ever there was one.
Much of the criticism surrounding the film brings to light a simple lack of understanding of the material and its intention. Harmony Korine is not showing drugged-up, gun-toting co-eds because it’s cool; he’s showing them to cast a light on this particular sub-set of our culture. This sub-set is of the blissfully ignorant, who are more focused on pop culture and how much “shit” they own rather than experiencing a fairly original concept known as real life.
Other criticism surrounds Korine’s style over substance approach and a belief that the film is seemingly edited together as if it’s one extended montage sequence. I for one would argue there is very much substance, harkening back to a lack of understanding, and that the editing style, while certainly abrasive, is being used to mimic the style of which MTV’s spring break culture was born. And, that’s not even mentioning fantastic neon-glow cinematography by Benoit Debie. The final shot will undoubtedly remain etched into your brain long after it’s come and gone.
Yes, there’s graphic nudity, graphic violence, and absurdly comedic scenes, but if you think that’s all there is to Spring Breakers then you’re simply not looking close enough. This is terrifying stuff, and Harmony Korine knows it. By making a film that casts a light on this absurdist phenomenon, he’s exposing it for what it truly is. A fever dream. A figment of your imagination. A fairytale. James Franco’s Alien is your guiding light into the depths of hell should you choose to follow him. Or you know, you could just go to class, get a job, and live life like everyone else. Your choice I guess.