I fondly remember the one year I got together with a group of my friends back in college and heading off to the Bahamas for Spring Break. Just to give you a sense of how old I am, that was right around the height of “The Thong Song,” so to say that was the most awesome year of Spring Break as far as I’m concerned is probably an understatement. But when you’re removed from being in the middle of the chaos and the crazy, the drunkenness and the lust, there’s something incredibly filthy about Spring Break. Looking at it from a distance, it’s a tawdry exchange of drugs and booze and bodily fluids that really signals a breakdown of our societal order in an isolated location by a large group of people with no regard whatsoever for any type of morals, or, for that matter, any type of rules or regulations. They are there to have fun to the fullest, with no thought given to any type of repercussions for their actions or their behaviors. There’s no planning going on beyond the moment, and when you’re a stranger in a strange land with a great degree of anonymity, you can push those limits even further than you normally would.
And that’s where the brilliance of Harmony Korine’s SPRING BREAKERS lies, because the filmmaker is able to capture this annual tradition in its rawest, grimiest form. There is no glorification of the sort of activities that take place on a typical Spring Break escape. Korine will absolutely show you the nudity and the narcotics and lots and lots of alcohol, as one’s pleasure takes precedence over their own common decency or safety in plenty of situations, but there’s nothing cool or titillating about anyone of it as it flashes across the screen. Detached from experiencing it yourself, there’s a pervasive grossness to all of it, as you witness men and women of college age acting afool against what would be the standard for good judgment. Even as we see bikini-clad co-eds in the pool from the neck up, Korine will dip his camera just beneath the surface to give you a look at the rest of the goods. It’s not meant to get you excited; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s to drive home the point that everything you’re watching is tainted and dirty and a little on the skeevy side... and it’s a point he’s rather successful at making.
SPRING BREAKERS is centered around four girls - Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine - although you really only need to take notice of the first two, as the latter pair really don’t bring much to the table, except to serve as more flesh on display. This foursome is dead set on not being what feels like the only people left behind on their college campus during Spring Break. However, a lack of funds puts a bit of a damper on their big plans to head down to St. Petersburg, FL, so, with the wholesome Gomez (her character is named Faith for pretty obvious reasons) kept out of the equation, the other three girls decide to rob one of their local restaurants with squirt guns and hammers. They come away with enough cash to make their trek down to the Sunshine State and let the debauchery begin.
I think there’s a fair amount of social commentary going on here about the current generation of entitlement, with this display of going on Spring Break at all costs. These girls want to go, so they’re going, regardless of what it takes to get them there, and all for what? So they can escape their small town and revel in the fantasy life for a few days...? They state over and over again how they never want to go home, how they’re never going back, as if life remains this one giant party day in and day out, week after week, with no responsibilities to worry about, and no consequences for your actions. There is an air of invincibility to the girls that becomes worrisome, because, as Gomez’s Faith can see coming from a mile away, “something bad is going to happen.”
That something just happens to be an arrest for drugs as they’re living it up in a hotel that really is one giant party itself. Really... there’s no place to sleep or rest up for the next day’s schedule of hedonism. It’s just wall-to-wall music, sex and substance abuse for as far as the eye can see. Lucky for them they weren’t in possession of anything, so they’ll just have to pay a fine, but with all their money going towards getting down to St. Pete and calling any type of relative for help not looking like much of an option, they’ve got nothing left to keep them out of jail for the next couple of days. Seemingly up shit creek without a paddle, local rapper/drug dealer Alien (a barely recognizable James Franco) bails them out, because... well, they look like good people to him.
Alien’s claim to fame is that he’s done just about every illegal activity under the sun, while trying to duplicate every single hip hop/gangsta rap cliche he’s ever come across in a movie or a song. The dollar sign tattoo on his neck is simply the beginning. He’s got dollar signs on the rims of his Camaro, which sports the license plate BALLR He’s got SCARFACE playing at his crib on repeat. The rest of his place is made up of either ridiculously gaudy decor of some display of cash and weapons. If you walked in the door, he’d bombard you with demands to “Look at my shit,” as he lives the material lifestyle that equates stuff with success. Franco absolutely embraces this ridiculous role, and much like the girls who are now taken into his company, it’s impossible not to be entranced by his caricature of this type of trash you know exists. How can you not when he’s constantly spouting pearls of wisdom like, “Bikinis and big booties, yo! That’s what life is all about!” Ah, if only that paid the bills...
The girls get sucked in by this way of life though... that is, all except Gomez, who, while being the prominent face of the group is also the most lifeless. There’s just not much for her or her character to do here, outside of whine that she wants to go home, once the trip goes from enjoyable to uncomfortable, palling around with complete and total strangers who choose not to hide their lack of respect for the law. That’s where SPRING BREAKERS is at its most dark and twisted, exploring the idea that there may just be three kinds of people in life - those who take it to the limit and pull back for good reason at the first sign of trouble, those who push the envelope a bit further and stop only because they actually do endure some sort of repercussions for their act, and then those who just blow past all limits and restrictions that may be placed in their way in the name of their own good time.
Hudgens falls into that latter category, delivering a performance that’s both devious and calculating, shady and enlightening. This is a bad girl who, when given the chance, will feed her desire to be even worse, aroused by the idea of getting away with her most carnal wants. You can see it right from the start with her obsession of mimicking gun use with her fingers. She is all about doing the wrong thing, and the girls’ somewhat spiritual trip on Spring Break to find themselves affords her the opportunity to live such a dangerous life.
There are times when SPRING BREAK is trying too hard, working to be artistic visually to a fault, almost at the behest of its story and message. There are only so many repeats of the same imagery or dialogue that one can take before it starts to become grating and annoying, and the prism of seeing SPRING BREAKERS for stretches as this concoction of part-acid trip, part-music video can be a bit distracting from the gritty view of what the anonymity of Spring Break allows people to get away with. However, Franco makes this a hypnotic story that you cannot turn away from, and, with the help of Hudgens’ turn and Harmony Korine’s desire to uncover the dark underbelly of this rite of passage for some, SPRING BREAKERS is one trip I recommend you take. It’s definitely worth experiencing for yourself. I’m already planning my next viewing.
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