Oct 9, 2020
Spring Breakers (2013) Text Review
Four college girls long to go to Fort Lauderdale for spring break, but don’t quite have the cash to get there. After turning it around in their minds for a while, they come up with the obvious solution: they paint some squirt guns black and hold up a diner, grabbing cash from the register and mugging all the patrons. (“Act like it’s a movie,” they say to each other beforehand to psych themselves up for it.)
Once they make it to the sun-soaked beaches of Florida, they engage in drug-fueled debauchery that quickly lands them in jail. They’re bailed out by a stranger, a corn-rowed rapper calling himself “Alien” (James Franco) who also happens to be a drug dealer. He slowly draws the girls into his lifestyle, and into a feud with a rival dealer that leads inexorably to this movie’s bloody conclusion.
Spring Breakers is a movie that lots of people talked about, but not many actually saw. On the surface, it’s a trashy crime drama set in the same hedonistic world that brought us Girls Gone Wild and MTV Spring Break. But despite all the sex and drugs and violence on display, it’s about as far as you can get from anything that could be called actual titillation. Gunplay and bare boobs have never looked so bleak.
Clearly, this film was meant as something deeper, more artful. It seems to be an attempt at social commentary, but even among the critics who gushed over it upon its initial release (and believe me, there were many), there’s not a whole lot of agreement over what aspect of society, exactly, this film is commenting on.
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Is it about the dark, seedy underbelly of the American dream? Is it about millenials’ desensitization to violence thanks to video games and internet porn? Is it about society’s relentless obsession with youth? White appropriation of hip-hop culture? A thinly-veiled statement on TARP bailouts?
Despite lovely candy-coated cinematography, and some eminently quotable dialogue, I’m not sure Spring Breakers is about much of anything, other than its own stunt casting. As the continuing fame of Miley Cyrus proves, there’s nothing the American public eats up quite as voraciously as former teen queens shedding their good girl images, and in that respect, Spring Breakers does not disappoint.
The film finds a former Disney Channel star or two making their first (okay, maybe second) ever appearance in a R-rated film, so I’ll go through the cast one by one, and talk about their performances, and discuss what’s really important here: who gets naked or not.
Of the four, the only actress who distinguishes herself with an actual personality is Selena Gomez, famous for Wizards of Waverly Place and being Justin Bieber’s (ex?) girlfriend. She’s in a church group, prays often, and has a personal connection with her lord and savior Jesus Christ. Other than “Alien”, she’s the only character whose name I could actually remember: Faith. Yes, the one devoutly religious girl of the group is named “Faith”. She’s clearly uncomfortable with the situation and leaves the festivities early on, showing the least skin of anyone.
The rest of the girls are varying shades of sociopath, willing to do anything as long as it gets them high and/or laid. Of the three, the most notable is Vanessa Hudgens, better known for the High School Musical franchise. While her former co-star/boyfriend was busy being peed on by Nicole Kidman, the one-time Gaby Montez has an implied nude scene, engages in a discreetly filmed three-way, simulates oral sex on a notebook, and delivers various witticisms like, “Seeing all this money makes my pussy wet!”
Then there’s Ashley Benson from ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars. I’d love to say more about her character, but she’s pretty much interchangeable with Vanessa. The same can be said about the fourth member of the group, the Ernie Hudson of this quartet, played by Rachel Korine, the director’s wife. Except, since she’s the only one you’ve never heard of, she’s the only one who does any real nudity.
And then there’s James Franco. He doesn’t get naked, but he does perform fellatio on two loaded guns, if that’s what you’re into.
Everything Franco has done for at least the last three years feels like a publicity stunt—why the hell was he on General Hospital again?—and when he plays “Alien”, every line he speaks is utterly ridiculous. His performance here should be taken about as seriously as James Franco himself took grad school.
If you doubt this whole thing was just a goof for him, wait for the moment when he sits behind a white piano on the beach and sings a heartfelt rendition of a Britney Spears ballad while the girls pirouette around him in pink ski masks and carrying guns, which really happens.
Or better yet, just listen to his key speech in the movie, a thing of wonder. Surely, the bulk of next year’s applicants to Julliard will be using this monologue as an audition piece.
Alien: This is the fucking American dream. This is my fucking dream, y’all! All this sheeeit! Look at my sheeeit!
I got— I got shorts! Every fucking color. I got designer T shirts!
I got gold bullets. Motherfucking vampires. I got Scarface. On repeat. Scarface on repeat. Constant, y’all!
I got Escape! Calvin Klein Escape! Mix that shit up with Calvin Klein Be. Smell nice. I smell nice!
That ain’t a fucking bed. That’s a fucking art piece. My fucking spaceship! U.S.S. Enterprise on this shit. I go to different planets on this motherfucker! Me and my fucking Franklins here, we take off. Fucking take off!
Look at my shit. Look at my shit! I got my blue Kool-Aid. I got my fucking numchucks [sic]. I got shurikens. I got different flavors. I got them sais. Look at that shit, I got sais. I got blades!
Look at my sheeeit! This ain’t nothing! I got— I got rooms of this shit!
I got my dark tanning oil… lay out by the pool, put on my dark tanning oil.
Machine guns! Look at this. Look at this motherfucker here! Look at this motherfucker! Huh? A fucking army up in this shit!
It’s entirely possible Franco improvised this entire speech on the spot, and if so, now we know what an MFA in creative writing gets you.
While the first half of the movie focuses on the four girls, the last half feels like one, long, interminable James Franco voiceover. From the beginning, it’s clearly not a fast-paced film, but in its final act, Spring Breakers slows way the fuck down as we listen to Franco blather incessantly about how overjoyed he is to be living the American dream.
I really can’t blame him. If I were having regular threesomes with Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens, I too would be walking around in a haze of perpetual euphoria, constantly telling any poor soul I happened to come across what an awesome and fantastic life I was leading. But I’m fully aware that I’d also be a total bore to listen to.
Spring Breakers was written and directed by Harmony Korine. I’m not that familiar with his oeuvre, but by all accounts this his most accessible, watchable film yet, so I’m pretty sure I’m not missing much (he also made a 90-minute movie about people dry humping trash cans).
Part of me suspects (well, pretty much knows) this was all an excuse to film lots of really young women getting naked. Especially considering there’s a good chance Korine and his wife first hooked up when she was still 16 or 17. Make of that what you will.
Is Spring Breakers a subtly-played satire of exploitation movies, or just an actual exploitation movie? It hardly matters, because it doesn’t work as either one. It’s a movie where you derive more enjoyment from saying that you’ve seen it than actually seeing it. “Look at my sheeeit” is going to be a constant inside joke for years to come.