Sunday, March 24, 2013

ABANDONED THEATER: Spring Break Foreverrrr

Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is not your parents’ film. Actually, it is not a lot of people’s film. Movie goers who hate non-linear, elliptical narratives[i] will not like this movie. Movie goers may not like the dream-like quality the plot takes on, filled with drugs and bare tittays and even violence. A tone poem set to screen, nothing about Spring Breakers screams standard, regardless of the advertising team’s attempt to lure fans of Project X and other party films.  But maybe that is Korine’s ultimate joke: the bros and hos are lured to this film to see his portrayal of their utterly ridiculous need to lose themselves in their own debauchery.

Spring Breakers is also prayer-like. When praying the rosary, good lil’ Catholics repeat repetitive phrases so they can reach that sweet spot in perception to truly meditate on God and life and all of that good stuff. Buddhists and other faiths have similar rituals. Korine uses repetition of neon colors, impressionistic filming techniques, obscene images, specific meditative scenes, raucous character actions, and especially dialogue to reach this sort of trance for the viewer.

Spring break. Spring break. Spring break foreverrrr.

The four girls (played by Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine, the wife of the director) decide to go find themselves on their spring break. They wander through the lustful nightmarescape of naked co-eds covered in booze, sand, and cocaine. These scenes are told through the point-of-view of Gomez’s character, Faith, who is a manifestation of Christian faith. She is a good girl torn between the sin and salvation of her childhood, which is represented through her religion and also her three other friends. About halfway through the movie, after these four girls end up in their inevitable destination of jail for drug possession, everything changes. They are bailed out by gangster and trap rapper Alien, played insanely by James Franco, who acts as their savior. Gomez bails and goes home, wizening up, which disappoints Franco’s sex and money-obsessed Loki character.

Spring break. Spring break. Spring break foreverrrr.

A major shift happens at this point in the movie. The movie is now Franco’s. Gomez chooses the side of salvation, leaving the nightmare behind, leaving a vacuum in the film, which is promptly and wonderfully filled by Franco[ii]. Franco acts as the big, gangsta devil on the shoulders of these remaining three college girls, as they piss off local actual-gangsters and rob all of the spring breakers in St. Petersburg and infringing on turf. The most memorable scenes in this film, which is largely sans actual narrative scenes—harkening back to the idea that this is more of a tone poem and less of a narrative film—feature Franco. These scenes are still not actual scenes, but elliptical pictures of a hilarious grill-fronted corn-row-wearing rapper who has money and guns littering his bed, nun chucks and swords on his wall, Calvin Klein cologne on his dresser, and dark tannin’ oil for when he’s lying by the pool. “This is my shit” is one of the memorable mantras of Spring Breakers that many people would probably quote unironically.

Spring break. Spring break. Spring break foreverrrr.

This idea goes back to the audience question again. Who is this movie for? Is it for the bros and hos? They cannot honestly enjoy the lack of narrative—one girl getting into trouble and the other girls have to save her in a Hangover like fashion. Also, the snobbier film fans might balk at the outright absurdity of the characters and the porno-like quality to the dialogue. This leaves a somewhere in-between for the movie. When I saw the film, I left the theater hearing people complaining that they sat through the worst movie they had ever been to in their entire lives. I think the peopleI saw it with —and a small group it was—were the only four in the entire theater who understood it, but a lot of that understanding occurred after discussions on the drive home.

Spring break. Spring break. Spring break foreverrr.

That is where a lot of the work comes afterwards. It is not the sort of instant gratification film like you expect when you see so many partiers throughout its runtime. No, instead we have a very contemplative movie underneath the neon scuzz and tanning oil residue. And the heart of this contemplation comes during the movie’s best and most bizarre scene, where Alien serenades the three remaining girls, who are wearing sweatpants and hot pink ski-masks, to the tune of a Britney Spears song. He plays the song poolside (and oceanside) on a white baby grand piano. Alien refers to Spears as an angel and lifts her memory, as if she was dead, to be that of a paragon of beauty and virtue. The girls twirl with machine guns hand-in-hand in an inebriated exhilaration. To these people, they are one another’s mother-fuckin’ soulmates and this is perfection. In the end, virtue is what these characters lack, unless you look through their shutter-shade viewpoints. They think that their existence has the most meaning, of gangbanging and partying. But do we want to see their point-of-view? That goes back to my original question—who is this movie for?

Spring break. Spring break. Spring break foreverrrr.

I give Spring Breakers a strong 8 to a lite 9 out of 10.

[i] Think Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, or even The Tree of Life, mixed with the rebellion of Badlands. Malick, by the way, is one of Korine’s biggest influences.

[ii] Alien is one aspect of Spring Breakers that is easy to enjoy at all times. He is hilarious in how unrealistic he is, but in how realistic he is. His single-mindedness leads to some outrageous moments and dialogue. He reminds me of John Goodman’s Vietnam vet character in The Big Lebowski—everyone’s favorite character in an inevitable cult classic. Franco’s performance is also impressive because he is the spitting image of this alternative, outsider rapper—Riff Raff. Pitchfork has a great video about this character. Do you see the resemblance? 


  1. If I could "like" this, I would.

  2. agreed. This movie warped my mind...but in a good way. It's seriously one of my favorite movies of the year so far. I wrote my own review for also.