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Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is a polarising experience dividing viewers who are open to cinematic delirium and the people who just wanted to see another American Pie film. I warned my friends before we all saw it, “It’s a Harmony Korine film, not a B-grade sexed-out college comedy. Expect something more like a subdued, trippy David Lynch film” (What a cool friend I am!). Spring Breakers was exactly that: subdued Lynch. While all the conventions for a film are present; narrative, characters, dialogue, images – Korine plays with time and folds it to draw us in to the delirious fever dream that is Spring Breakers. It is apparent that the film is divided into two parts, in a sense – the first half is conventional with plot, the second is disjointed. Viewers, this is not a Disney girls-gone-bad film. This is a twisted love story/drug trip/getaway to a foreign yet familiar utopia of bikinis, booze and babes.
The film opens with shots of a grim, stagnate university campus. The four girls, Faith (Selena Gomez), Cotty (Rachel Korine), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), and Brit (Ashley Benson) are either getting high all together on a bed, or Candy and Brit are drawing penises during a lecture.
The first half of the film runs on a straight narrative that is clear to the viewer, thanks to the moral character Faith. We see that the girls don’t have enough money to go to Florida despite all the other students have left campus to pursue the adolescent dream of spring break. After snorting some cocaine, Brit and Candy decide to rob a family restaurant to come up with the rest of the cash. Cotty steals her professor’s car because she “knows where the keys are” to which Brit replies, “of course you do”, insinuating perhaps that Cotty is having an affair with her professor – but this is not referenced again in the film so it’s irrelevant and entirely up to your imagination. Faith is at church while Cotty drives the ute with Brit and Candy sitting in the back, balaclava-clad with hammers and water-guns. As they approach the restaurant, Candy and Brit jump out and run into the building while we, the viewer, circle the restaurant with Cotty driving the car. The sequence is muffled, we can hear Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life” playing in Cotty’s car and nothing else as we peer through the windows to see the violence and power Brit and Candy have acquired – this awakens something in them to pursue it further in Florida.
The girls get the money, Faith disapproves, and they all go to Florida for Spring Break.
Once in Florida, the girls do what spring breakers do – this results in an arrest, and our four heroines face trial in their neon bikinis. Alien (James Franco) – an enigma of Riff Raff and Hawaiian shirts – sits in the back of the courtroom gazing at these lovely ladies, bails them out of jail and tells them later “I knew y’all was special from the moment I saw you. It’s in your eyes. It’s written on your faces.”
Turns out, Candy and Brit are his “motherfuckin’ soul mates” and they have a threesome in his pool – despite how blunt and sexed-up stereotypical this sounds, it’s actually quite comforting and heartfelt as the film begins to disintegrate into disjointed sequences and repetitive dialogue.
Faith doesn’t trust Alien – which is fair enough. This emphasises her role in the film as the moral compass and our point of identification/reality in Spring Breakers. Faith distrusts Alien so much that she boards a bus homebound and leaves the Spring Break utopia of bikinis, big booties and boobies. Cotty, Candy and Brit stay and are introduced into Alien’s way of life – the “motherfuckin’ American Dream” filled with hustling, guns, and drugs – and shorts of every single colour! – this Alien guy has got it made. Once Alien’s way of life is all we’re presented with, this is where the film morphs into a glorious trip of disjointed dialogue, slow-motion sequences of violence laced with Britney Spears singing Everytime and suddenly scenes are used to foreshadow impending plot-shifts and are later re-framed in a different light. Highlight: James Franco playing a white grand piano next to his pool singing Everytime whilst the three girls swoon in their pink balaclavas and “DTF” tracksuit pants.
A lot of viewers seem to get lost in the second half the film, losing interest when Faith leaves, taking the familiarity with her. For me, I enjoyed the film most when our moral compass left the scene and we were enveloped in an alternate distortion of interlaced scenes, sequences and sounds. Dialogue started to repeat itself, over and over, and it often didn’t match the scene. Violent sequences with contrasting music provided humour to an overall dark film. The story arc with Alien, Candy and Brit provided a love story, and then a revenge story. I expected to see these four young girls exploited and sexed-up, but I found the ending empowering. Cotty, Candy and Brit were very nurturing and protective of Faith. And when Faith leaves, Cotty – the lone ranger – is injured and we see Candy and Brit protect her. Candy and Brit seem to love each other and are almost in sync – it is sweet, not as “slutty” as you’d expect it to be. Perhaps this is because during the latter half of the film, the audience will grasp at any kind of human empathy it can get.
People have been lamenting the casting of the film – the three Disney starlets Gomez, Hudgens and Benson (ABC’s Pretty Little Liars). I wasn’t initially happy with the casting either, until I saw the film and understood where Korine was coming from. Firstly, the girls did a fantastic job and immersed themselves in the characters (special mention goes out to Rachel Korine’s portrayal of Cotty). Secondly, Harmony Korine wanted the film to both encapsulate and emulate pop culture – and who better represents pop culture than three disney stars?
Spring Breakers is sure to be a cult film that encapsulates our generation’s obsession with pop culture, Americana, and excess – as well as the powerhouse stars of the film who represent the contemporary Westernised entertainment industry. The film features music from Skrillex, Gucci Mane (who also acts in the film as Alien’s nemesis) and Cliff Martinez.