Spring Breakers (2012)
Directed by: Harmony Korine
Running time: 94 minutes
Words cannot describe how stupid I thought the film Spring Breakers looked when I first saw the trailer way back at the start of this year. “Ex-Disney Channel stars partying and doing drugs with a weird looking James Franco gangster?! What madness is this?!” I know many of you probably felt the same, how could you not? However, once the film launched in cinemas overseas I saw that a few critics I respected were praising the film, calling it a fascinating exploration of Generation Y’s version of the “American Dream”. All of a sudden I was intrigued by this film, and sadly missed the limited cinematic release it received here in Australia. But the film is now out on DVD/Blu-Ray and I finally got the chance to sit down and check it out for myself. And boy, was it an experience!
Now Showing this week is Spring Breakers, directed by Harmony Korine. Four college girls named Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty (!) are all sick of their studies, their routine and all the limitations that life has imposed on them. What they truly want to do is join the rest of their college cohorts and go celebrate spring break, an American holiday in which university students travel to their nearest beaches, binge drink and participate in various debaucheries. The girls sadly do not have the money to fund such a trip, so Candy, Brit and Cotty (seriously, what the hell?!) decide to gain the money through robbing a diner with fake weaponry. And thus their spring break shenanigans begin! Not long into the trip however, they are arrested during one of their many drugged up parties and taken to lock-up. They are soon bailed out by a strange man calling himself Alien (James Franco) who is claiming he has a desire to take the girls under his wing. But Alien’s world is a dangerous one, a fact the girls only seem to realise when it’s all too late…
Okay, now even I agree that the entire above paragraph sounds really stupid. On paper, Spring Breakers sounds incredibly shallow and moronic; the kind of film fans of Project X and the Hangover sequels would flock to see. And many of them did, and they all hated it because that is the kind of film that Spring Breakers is not. The film’s narrative may be simple, in fact it is incredibly simple, but Spring Breakers moves itself in the opposite directions to those other films. A film like Project X is all about laughing at the stupid inebriated antics of young people, with little rumination as to why these antics take place and what it takes to partake in them. This is where Spring Breakers sits, showing us the motivations of Gen Y and their desire for a life of leisure, free of responsibility and work. The film explores the girls’ philosophies on both their real world existence and their more-desired spring break existence, along with what it took to get them here and what it will take to have them stay. I don’t want to use the term “art-house” to describe Spring Breakers, but it was the closest, and most concise, phrase I could think of. The longer version would be that the film is made and presented in a very unconventional way given the subject matter with which it presents.
The first aspect of the film to really push its abstract nature is the cinematography. This film is beautifully shot, often presenting moments at strange angles or focusing on different aspects of a scene which leads the audience to experience the scenes in different ways tonally, as well as aesthetically. An example would be the initial robbery taking place from the perspective of the getaway driver as she loops around the building, only for the audience to be later in the film shown the events occurring inside. This stylistic choice softened the blow of the robbery initially, only to later gives us the full impact of the horror that brought the girls to this supposed paradise of spring break. This mixed up chronology is also used to great effect throughout the film, with many scenes showing future moments before they happen and allowing that knowledge to alter our perspective of the current situation. The film also makes use of some very interesting partying and violence shots juxtaposed with music that causes a strange sense of ambivalence in the audience’s eyes. The parties are both chaotic yet serene, the violence both brutal and beautiful. These tonal shifts are most certainly a highlight of Spring Breakers.
The other aspect of the film that I would like to note as being excellent would be the acting in the film. Do not misunderstand me, I don’t think there are any Oscar worthy roles in Spring Breakers, nor would I describe any of the characters in it as being the most deep or complex characters around. However, the four lead girls do a good job of portraying characters in such an adult film, far removed from what they have been previously featured in; and they do so with much conviction and believability. I know it sounds crazy, I wouldn’t have thought Selena Gomez could be a decent actor either, but the four lead girls do perform quite well. But the true acting highlight of the film would have to be James Franco as Alien. Again, I don’t believe that Alien is an amazingly complex character, nor is this performance one for the history books; but Franco is unrecognisable as Alien, and that is something definitely worthy of praise. His voice, mannerisms and movements are unlike anything I have seen James Franco in before. His performance as Alien has shown me what a talented actor the man truly is, and I am willing to perhaps forgive that Oz: the Great and Powerful debacle.
Bottom line: I feel Spring Breakers will surprise you all. Those going in to it expecting a stupid, Hollywood frat party film will ultimately leave disappointed (but that should be more disappointment at themselves for having those desires rather than anything to do with the film itself), but what is presented here is a strange, captivating look at what a life of leisure would truly cost us, and why our normal lives are the way they are. The film is far from perfect I will admit, as it does get a little silly towards the end and there are some uses of repetition that eventually grind on the bones (“Spring break. Forever!”); but the end result of the film gave me a fascinating and simply different take on a subject matter I had long before decided I loathed. And that is an achievement in and of itself. Check it out!
See you next time!