Starring: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and James Franco
Director and writer: Harmony Korine
Drama. 94 minutes. Rated R18 for sexual situations, violence and drug use.
Walking that thin line between high art and exploitation, Spring Breakers shines a light on the hedonistic world of American college students and their penchant for day-glo bikinis – only it’s not what you might expect.
Opening with music video cuts of raucous spring break abandon – and looking like an unholy cross between the last days of Rome and an episode of Miami Vice on crack – Harmony Korine’s seventh film seems to have snuck into mainstream theatres on the tanned backs of its former Disney-girl stars, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez. But this isn’t the all new American Pie or Bridesmaids. This film isn’t even funny.
Suffering from the uniquely first-world problem of finding school and life really, really boring, a group of college students look forward to the halcyon adventure that is spring break. Unfortunately, they’re broke.
Rectifying this with a spot of armed robbery, the girls high-tail it to Miami, leaving their morals and their clothes behind. The party life proves too much for them and they end up in county jail, in their bikinis, without a prayer. Enter Alien (James Franco), a small time crook who bails them out and leads them on a downward spiral to levels of depravity and immorality that, lets face it, we totally saw coming.
Korine’s wheelhouse is exposing the seamy underbelly of American youth culture and what better way to do it than by despoiling a couple of former Disney darlings? Hudgens and Gomez are both excellent and perfectly cast as the vulnerable Faith (Gomez) and the soulless Candy (Hudgens), two young women searching for meaning and escape in very different ways.
But it’s Franco’s wannabe gangster, Alien, a slimy foil to the spring breakers’ grubbied innocence, that sums up the whole experience.
“Look at all this shit,” he cries, brandishing his uzi like a squirt gun, surrounded by gaudy opulence and half naked girls. “Look at all this shit. It’s the American Dream, all this shit.”
Visually, Spring Breakers is the pinnacle of Korine’s often unsettling, always bizarre, collage style of film making. It’s almost garishly bright, repetitive and jarring, with characters repeating lines like “spring break, forever” over and over in a sometimes dreamy counterpoint to extreme violence. It doesn’t make for easy viewing, but it is compelling.
That’s because Korine wants viewers to be lured into the multiplex by the promise of sun-kissed, bikini clad beauty, only to assault them with a cold dose of mindless, selfish violence and bitter judgement.
It’s the ultimate heist, turning fantasies into mill stones and making the idea of “spring break, forever” feel more like an endless nightmare than a dream come true.