Imagine if you will, an alternate universe where James Franco is a dreadlocked, whiteboy rapper from St. Pete’s, Florida. Oh, and he’s kind of a big deal in the local drug market. He’s got a white-trash house on the water and a hard-top convertible with $ rims, an arsenal of guns, piles of drugs, naked girl and weed posters everywhere. His bed is literally covered with stacks of cash and automatic weapons… and don’t forget the weird bald guys packaging cocaine in the side room. Now imagine the backyard, where a white piano is stuck between the bay, the pool, and a sunset, and where Alien (Franco) sits surrounded by bikini-clad girls in pink balaclavas… All holding guns bigger than they are of course. “You wanna see my sensitive side huh?” Franco asks in a thick southern drawl. He bursts into song, singing a completely ridiculous full-length cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime‘ that’s inter-cut with shots of the gang robbing spring breakers at gun point. If you don’t know the song, open it in another tab and you’ll get the joke.
This is the universe of Spring Breakers, the latest movie from polarizing indie-filmmaker Harmony Korine (Gummo, Kids, Mr. Lonely). It opened in cineplexes across the country last weekend to a lukewarm reception due to one of the worst marketing campaigns I have ever seen. It stars former Disney teen-sensations Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens as well as Ashley Benson and the director’s wife Rachel Korine, in a HARD R-rated movie that drips with sex and attitude… Which is obviously what the studio banked on.
Don’t misunderstand me, this is an unforgettable film, and I’m not shitting you. I don’t know if you’ve seen Kids or Gummo or not, but they’re raw slices of Americana that center on kids growing up in different hell holes. Spring Breakers stays true to Korine’s reoccurring motif, teenagers hell-bent on acting like the adults they think they are… Only this time it’s set to the hedonistic backdrop of the annual college ritual known as “spring break.” Where thousands of college kids drive some place warm and act a fool. I didn’t think I would like this movie as much as I did… And I’m not just saying that because the stars spend the entire movie busting out of their bikinis and underwear.
Someone in an office somewhere decided to market this movie as a straight-up good-girls-gone-bad gangster flick, probably to cash in on the stars’ names and hoping to do exactly what they did. Draw a big unsuspecting crowd the first weekend, only to be met by a slew of comments like “Dude that movie sucked” from the poor date-night patrons they duped into the wrong film. Well screw that, and screw them, this movie is so hot it’s electric! I’m confident in my assessment that this is A Clockwork Orange or Natural Born Killers for Generation Y.
The story is simple, four bored college girls reject the horrible depressing structure they live in and only dream of going “to the place where people find themselves.” That’s right, Florida. Where spring break rages like the twisting nude flesh of some Roman sex-goddess. Morality goes out the window in the pursuit of that which has no morals to begin with. After the girls realize they’ve only saved $230 all year-long, they rationalize what they have to in pursuit of their “needs.”
So of course they rob the local Chicken Shack (in a brilliantly filmed scene shot entirely from inside the getaway car as it circles the diner). This is not a Bonnie and Clyde movie, this is a meditation on the detachment of today’s youth. This film serves up the symbolism on a steaming hot platter and forces you to take a bite. The director skewers everything from traditional gender roles to consumerism and the moral erosion of the age of information. I haven’t seen this much use of ironic neon since Grand Theft Auto Vice City.
I don’t think I stressed the fact that this movie is sexy. Uncomfortably so… and on purpose. You know the old adage of “if you want to get them laughing, make them cry; likewise if you want to make them cry you’ve gotta get them to laugh?” It’s an old movie trick that goes way back, and in Spring Breakers it’s more of, “Want to make them disgusted? Get ’em hot.” Opening scenes of the girls cavorting in their underwear while conspiring their escape give way to brilliantly staged party-scapes, where bikini-clad college kids dance, drink, screw, prank, and then finally get led on a visceral roller-coaster ride over the wrong side of the tracks. The movie follows these girls through the looking glass and beyond, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, power and helplessness, control and chaos…
I can picture the date night couples that went to see this movie expecting some kind of MTV gangster flick.
After the girls find themselves at the wrong crappy hotel party, they get busted. It isn’t really clear what for, but a lot of coke is snorted off of bare breasts while in another room two girls have sex. Luckily for our girls, two of the guys at the party (guess where the coke came from?) are also buddies with local-rapper-turned-drug-kingpin Alien (played with haunting precision by James Franco). So when Alien pays their bail and picks them up the next morning, of course they nervously agree to a ride home in his convertible cheesemobile. This is where the fun begins. From Alien’s metal and jeweled grill to his corn-rowed extensions this guy is a creeper, but he’s got a way with words and he’s something of a celebrity who tosses around money and drugs like they were nothing.
Money and drugs you say? That’s all it takes for a few of the girls, and soon the movie takes a hypnotic, hallucinatory journey through the seedy side of St. Pete’s. After the good girl freaks out and questions their motives and their decisions, she finally bails and takes the bus back home. This sends the remaining girls over the deep end as their moral compass has gone away.
I know why people hate this movie. It makes them feel uncomfortable, the images are disturbing, and if you don’t get that it’s a comment on what’s going on up there on the screen then it’s pointless. One of the triumphs of Korine’s film is that it succeeds in making beauty disturbing long before it turns ugly. So when it finally does turn ugly, oh man! One scene after the girls first hook up with Alien, he takes them to a spot where he and his friends hang out, where heavily-tattooed thugs play pool and dice in the corner while violent rap plays loudly on the stereo. It’s like watching mice in a snake pit.
All of the characters provide narration at one point I believe, and Alien gets the best lines. “Four little chickies came down to da beach. Four little chickies got out of my reach. One little chickie got shot in the arm. That little chickie went back to the farm.” In the immortal words of Mickey and Mallory Knox, “That’s just poetry baby…”
The best part about Spring Breakers is that nothing is really as it seems, and soon you realize that the girls are more than brooding, depressed college types… And in a very compelling scene involving Franco and a pair of silenced pistols… Well let’s just say for some reason I see that same snake pit, only with a pink grenade tossed in.
Spring Breakers is a movie that you will never forget for many reasons, and at the same time it succeeds in being one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.