It’s not very often that you see a meaningful film created in order to capture the essence of a specific moment in time. When such an endeavor is executed successfully, a powerful piece of cinema is sure to be the result. Spring Breakers masquerades under the guise of a Project X or Hangover ripoff, but at its core it insightfully explores some compelling themes and makes an interesting commentary on contemporary society. Spring Breakers is an artfully executed film made all the more surprising by the fact that its success was so unexpected. If you see one movie in next few months, make it this one.
The film is directed by the qualitatively inconsistent yet tenacious Harmony Korine, who, by his own admission, states that Spring Breakers is his best work to date. Starring James Franco, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, and former Disney stars Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, the film beautifully sets up a fundamentally conflicted cast of characters. Franco, in perhaps the greatest performance of his career, portrays the detestable rapper/drug dealer, Alien, to an incredible and unsettling effect.
Spring Breakers presents a beautifully unique visual style which I suppose could best be described as a neon and cotton candy fever dream, which serves as the perfect backdrop for the drug-fueled hedonistic rituals of spring break depicted herein. Skrillex, responsible for much of the score, likewise lends his booming bass and frantic tone to compliment the events taking place in this pseudo-paradise.
The thing I like about Spring Breakers is that it subtly critiques both society as well as the very practices inherent to the celebration of spring break. The film is more than happy to pan across writhing masses of naked flesh, coupled with no small amount of homoerotic undertones, in what many members of generation Y may find “awesome”, and indeed, Alien (Franco) proclaims “bikinis and big booties, ya’ll. That’s what life is about!” But wait, let’s take a look at what kind of people are actually enjoying the festivities. All save one of our four main protagonists are emotionally dead, existentially nihilistic husks that that flounder through life, frantically clinging to every hedonistic experience they can, in lieu of real meaning; they cope with the kind of internal void which may come from being brought up amid the two clashing worlds of disney princesses and Ke$ha-esque pop trash, which may explain Korine’s casting of Hudgens and Gomez. I remember that Sucker Punch back in 2011 tried to pull of something like this but didn’t execute it nearly as well. Essentially, Korine is making fun of the people who came to the theater just to see a bunch of nude coeds prancing around by saying “Look! This is what I think of you!”
I’m temped to say that Spring Breakers is the closest thing we have to the Boogie Nights in the 21st century, as both films explored the themes of redemption after the fall from a false paradise. It seems to me that Franco’s heinous Alien is the visual representation of the protagonist’s internal personas if they continue down their violent and self destructive path. Sure, he had cash, but he was also the most repugnant human being imaginable. Near the end of the movie, when the two remaining girls are about to assault Big Arch’s compound, they both call their mothers in a moment of internal contemplation and imply that they have become disenchanted with the lifestyle that they had so recently believed to be paradise, and one even so far as to say “I think that’s the key to life; being a good person”. Their redemption, however, required one last act of violence and sacrifice to wipe the slate clean. Notice how Alien dies before the action even starts. The visual representation of the animals that the girls would have inevitably become had they continued down that path is destroyed, once they begin their final effort of reconciliation, clearing the way for their metaphorical rebirth and redemption.
The reason I go through so much trouble to explain the finer thematic points is because Spring Breakers can at once be this simple movie about a vacation gone wrong, but it can also be so much more profound, depending on how you look at it. A lot of people didn’t like the movie because they didn’t understand it, which is why I’ve made such a concerted effort to break it down, so that everyone can enjoy this amazing piece of cinema.
Just as Boogie Nights wasn’t really about porn and Magic Mike wasn’t about stripping, Spring Breakers isn’t about partying. Instead, the message is so much more subtle and insightful and serves as a welcome and stark look at things as they are in contemporary society at this moment in time. From the existential void that breeds shallowness and cruelty to the fall from paradise and redemption, Spring Breakers is a masterfully executed and surprisingly smart piece of cinema and is a must see for 2013.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5