Harmony Korine, whose previous work like Gummo and Mister Nobody was on the arthouse circuit for years has made a very accessible film with appeal both for brain dead and brain hungry people. Korine is basically a social anthropologist who focuses on outlier societies the Starbucks crowd usually disdains and he sees the whole of the American story in them.
The other 3, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are sociopaths – and as such, have a single personality completely in tune with their more adventurous souls. Their Christian college and upbringing may have kept their consciences artificially propped up to this time, but basically their consciences are non-existent and their hedonistic selves can’t wait to be born.
Because they are short of funds the 3 decide to rob a diner. Faith isn't told because they kinda know Faith probably wouldn’t approve. They’ve seen it all on TV, the movies and video games. They know how much attitude and virility works to get you what you want and they have no problem robbing those suckers.
Here is where Korine’s style really starts to take shape. The discordant, dreamlike perspective of the 3 girls fills the screen as if they are on a planet of their own. The camera angle that shows the job smoothly done – like a pop video – complete with music. We follow the getaway driver, Cotty letting Candy and Brit off at the front door of the diner and then as she drives slowly in their stolen pickup truck around to the back door, seeing what Cotty sees through the diner windows – Candy and Brit mercilessly, in their balaclavas, brandishing fake guns, bullying and robbing the diner and its patrons, bags full of cash then seamlessly exiting the back door, diving into the back of the pickup and driving off whooping, hollering, drunk with power. They are so into themselves and man, are they cool!
So, still without clueing Faith into what they have done they gleefully make off to their St. Pete’s mecca. Faith surmises that St. Pete’s with its raucous, debauched portrayal of manic youth spewing, gyrating, blasting its way out of their college-restrained rationalist catharsis is “the most spiritual place I have ever been” – and all 4 girls dive into the beer, sweat and slobber of it. Even though there are titty shots galore and plenty of obviously shameless youths swimming in beer orgies we actually get very little depiction of sex. If the 4 girls ever get to be the little sluts they dream of being, we don’t really know. They sure love teasing though, and work the power of their bodies on to overload.
The St. Pete’s spring breaking crowd splatters onto the screen in full splendor – the constant, numbing, pounding energy, in high-powered pink and turquoise filters high on alcohol and pot, cocaine and whatever, repeated over and over again. It’s all candyland for big kids who’ve had their sweet tooth indulged all their lives.
Then the story takes a darker turn. After they are arrested at a particularly rowdy party, Alien (James Franco) a really, really bad dude bails them out, and they get to see how really bad he and they can be.
Franco at first seems to not be the best choice for Alien. He has a soft, vulnerable side that is a probably a permanent part of his personality. I doubt he can be really as scary edgy as Alien was supposed to be. But then it became obvious that Korine was exploiting this soft part of his personality. A mushy Franco makes Alien as absurdly surreal as the girls spring break/dive into hell is supposed to be. As he tells the girls, he is the living representation of the American dream and through crime, fear, violence he has acquired himself all the material goods everyone in America wants, and he has done it on his terms.
At this point the only character in the film with a moral compass, the only one who does not want the life of pleasure at any cost, Faith, leaves. We are left with various degrees of bad characters to watch take the next step. Will the other girls acquire a conscience and still be saved? Will Alien turn good? Will all of them get the violence and/or being caught by the cops they deserve? See the movie because it’s none of those things.
So how does the depiction of female characters in Spring Breakers rate according to finely-honed feminist standards?
Are the girls individualistic and multi-faceted? No, but they represent a specific social group so I didn’t think they needed to be.
Are they sexually exploited? Some might think so. Shallow guys can see the film and see plenty of boobs without once thinking there might be more to the movie. But I think not because the whole sexual cornucopeia is an accurate representation of a real-life phenomenon, within a specific time and location, in which certain young men and women really do behave this way.
Are the girls victimized? An emphatic – no! They give as good as they get.
This film is not feministically correct. It has all the reasons for disappointment in human nobility and nature that humanity actually deserves.
One question. Girls seem quite eager to take their tops off as a sign of rebellion and freedom. But guys don’t expose themselves any more than they could do publicly anywhere, even though that would also be shocking. Why are so many gay men so eager to go stark naked and publicly show off all their equipment, but straight men will avoid doing so at any cost?
All I can say is that Spring Breakers is normally a movie that would never have appealed to me. I don’t like excessive violence and I don’t like seedy, psychopathic gangsters. I don’t care for shallow, soulless teenagers and in fact being of a certain age I have no affinity with modern teenage angst and its immature obsessions in general. I don’t even like tourist Florida. But I was completely hooked on this film. I as thoroughly engaged and not bored for a second. I am also thankful for having discovered Harmony Korine this late in the game.
Links: Harmony Korine video interview with The Guardian and movie trailer clip