Spring Breakers (2013) – Spring Break Forever?
2013 was a great year for cinema, according to all available evidence and the cooing of many commentators. I’ve watched a large chunk of its diverse output, including seven of the nine Best Picture nominations for the Oscars, as well as various other notable additions, but none struck me as much as Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. I don’t know what the hell it was trying to say, but it seemed at once like a corrupted fairytale told by Terence Malick in a parallel universe; Scarface by way of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City; Reservoir Dogs in bikinis; End of Days shot in over-saturated neon by Sofia Coppola; and somehow like Apocalypse Now filmed on Florida shores.
It probably doesn’t help that I’m from England, so have little concept of what a Spring Break beach party actually is – I grew up with MTV, and have a vague recollection of those shows where muscle-bound guys and babes in bikinis danced around a pool to the latest hits. A spring break in England might include a pop to the garden centre with the parents, or maybe a chilly walk along the prom with Nan before hitting the penny arcades. It is one of those American rites of passages like Prom or tailgate parties before a college football game that us Brits only experience through American TV and movies.
The basic set up of the movie is this: Four bored college girls, three bad blondes and one goody-two-shoes Christian brunette, dream of getting out of their small hometown and going on Spring Break. The problem is, they don’t have the bank roll for it, so the three wicked sisters conjure up a get-rich-quick scheme: with the aid of hammers, water pistols and ski masks, they’ll hold up the local Chicken Shack and make off with enough dosh to fund a week of sun-soaked booty-grinding, bong-hitting, beer-chugging, coke-snorting debauchery.
Everything goes well enough – Christian girl Faith (Selena Gomez) dreamily wishes she could stay there forever, and witters on about how nice and friendly everyone is, and how she’s “finding herself” – until they get busted at a party and get banged up. Faced with a fine they can’t afford to pay, or jail time which won’t go down well with the folks back home, the four are sprung by local rapper-cum-drug dealer Alien (James Franco). Faith finds Alien repellent and threatening, and jumps on the next bus home, while the three wicked sisters fall under the spell of Franco’s gansta Prince Charming…
There seems to be some disagreement about whether Spring Breakers is sexist or feminist, and the film’s trailer certainly indicates that it will swerve towards the former – frankly, I expected it to be more salacious and titillating than it actually is. While cinematographer Benoît Debie‘s lens spends a lot of time lingering over twerking asses, bouncing tits and nubile bodies, it is curiously unerotic – I didn’t know Harmony Korine was a guy until I read up on the film afterwards, and a lot of his stylistic choices when depicting the beachfront bacchanalia reminded me more of Mary Haddon’s treatment of potentially misogynistic material in American Psycho.
These girls are definitely capable of doing it for themselves, as demonstrated in their callous and frightening diner heist – “Just fucking pretend it’s a video game”. Later, while Alien and his cronies present a clear and identifiable threat, Alien himself seems in just as much danger when two of the blondes turn his own weapons on him and force him to fellate the barrel of a gun.
I think it is less about sexism or feminism or gender roles, and more about the over-saturation of pop culture distancing the characters from the consequences of their actions. The girls think – rightly so, in the end – that they can pull off heists and shoot outs in gangster’s private palaces just by pretending it is a video game, and Alien thinks he can be Scarface just by watching Scarface on loop. The girls spend most of the movie in bikinis, but by the time they are hauled in front of a judge in their beachware, it seems less about a skimpy outfit to reveal their hot bodies, and more about sharing an anonymous set of clothing to commit crimes in, like the suits in Reservoir Dogs or the president masks in Point Break.
Time becomes fractured after Faith’s departure, and images become out of sync with the audio. The picture becomes hallucinatory in quality, awash with gaudy neon and oversaturated light. Franco is absolutely magnificent as the white trash gansta with grills and cornrows, and two bizarre set pieces – his “Look at my shit” speech as he boastfully shows off his material wealth to the girls, and a bizarre but strangely heartfelt poolside piano recital of Britney Spears’ Everytime, with his harem of sports-mask wearing bitches with guns dance around him – feel like cult moments the instant you see them. But for all the scenery-chomping, Franco’s Alien never quite descends into caricature, and he gives the film the closest thing it has to a soul, and his cracked, repeated whisper “Spring Break Forever” sounds more and more like Charles Foster Kane’s lament of “Rosebud” each time he says it.
So I still feel like I don’t know what Spring Breakers was about, and perhaps it was Korine’s intention just to throw it out there and let people fight over it. From the reviews I’ve read, it definitely divides opinion. For me, it was a strange and sinister netherworld tinged with melancholy – a last shout out from Western civilisation, before it disappears over the rim of a black hole of its own creation.
Posted on 04/02/2014, in Comedy, Film, Gangster, Movies, Reviews, Thriller and tagged Harmony Korine, James Franco, Look at my shit!, Selena Gomez, Spring Breakers. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.