Spring break the yearly ritual depicted in Spring Breakers, where college students travel to Florida or Mexico to indulge in a week of reckless drinking, sex and partying has a long tradition on screen dating back to 1960 in Where the Boys Are. The two films couldn’t be more different but one thing remains constant; spring break is where you will find the boys. In Spring Breakers four small town bored college girls go in search of adventure and end up encountering one very bad boy.
Unlike many of the films that deal with spring break, there is no dorky guy trying to lose his virginity, nerdy girl trying to win the heart of a jock or loser group of friends attempting to fit in with the cool crowd. Spring Breakers is about the darker side of what can happen when youth, drugs, and alcohol mix with the aimless and disconnected. In this case, Brit (Ashley Benson), Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), and Cotty (Rachel Korine). And, how the girls finance their trip sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Faith is the good girl of the group first seen at a church meeting and who serves as the conscience of the group. Once in Florida the friends ride around on scooters in their bikinis and join in the drinking and drugs mayhem of spring break. Of course, things take a wrong turn and this is when the coeds meet Alien (James Franco) a pot dealer who fancies himself a rapper and the movie takes off.
Spring Breakers has a hypnotic quality, which director Harmony Korine reinforces with the repetitive rhythms of a poem by reiterating lines and slightly shifting time back and forth. He sets a consistent color saturated tone to the visuals that infuses the film with a candy hued richness and otherworldliness. Korine has total command of the film’s look, tone and pacing which are consistent throughout.
Where he hits a bump is with the characters and the point of the story. He glamorizes the violence while simultaneously seeming to lie some of the blame for it on our desensitized video game culture. Is he leaving it up to the audience to decide or simply copping out?
In more than one instance the girls justify what they are doing by saying, “pretend it’s a videogame” and the whole film has a dreamy sense of unreality brought to life via a music video. One of the film’s best scenes with Alien at his white baby grand piano serenading the girls to Britney Spears’s ballad Everytime is reminiscent of a music video. The audience where I watched the film broke into applause in the middle of this scene when Franco’s singing segues into Britney Spears rendition of the song probably as much for the artistry of what is unfolding on screen as for the acknowledgment that everyone, even an outlaw drug dealer, has a soul.
The problem is that except for Faith, the girls are blank canvasses who don’t evoke emotion or empathy. This may very well be by design but it leaves the story with an empty center. It’s Faith who recognizes the danger Alien represents and Selena Gomez is believably vulnerable as a 17-year old who knows that while she may be attracted to the edge of the cliff, she doesn’t want to find out what’s on the other side. As the girls become further entangled with Alien it becomes clear they are no one’s victims.
Franco so inaccessible in Oz the Great and Powerful clearly revels in this role and is all in as the rapper gangster. He’s hilarious and menacing in his unapologetic reckless enjoyment of the outlaw lifestyle he’s chosen and the money and toys that come along with it. Alien's repetition of "Spring Break Forever"becomes the film's mantra.
Alien admits he’s always wanted to be bad. So often people search for answers when hearing news of senseless violence but the reality may be that there is no deeper answer. Violence is and has been a mark of mankind since the earliest recorded history and there just be some in society that are simply more genetically inclined toward aggression and lawlessness.
Perhaps the message of Spring Breakers is the senselessness of it all; the fine line between carefree fun and dangerous chaos that can flip from one second to the next. Unfortunately, without fully realized three-dimensional characters it’s impossible to know. You will have to arrive at your own conclusions about what the film is trying to say about today’s youth, American excess, and violence in the digital culture of the moment.