Comedy / Drama / Films

Spring Breakers

It’s interesting that two of the most talked about films of 2013 – Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers – share a lot of the same themes; youthful hedonistic excess, the need for instant gratification, a sense of disassociated responsibility and a detachment from reality. And of course, crime. Whereas Coppola’s movie focused on already rich kids in California committing burglary out of a combination of celebrity idolisation and ennui, Korine’s characters steal, at least initially, for an ideal. Perhaps best known for writing the provocative and controversial Kids in the mid-90s, Korine has crafted an odd and dreamlike look into hedonism here, in what is probably his most likable movie yet. Spring Breakers is easily one of the highlights from 2013 and a future cult classic. Arguably, it’s Korine’s masterpiece. spring breakersThe plot centres on a group of four college girls – Candy, Faith, Brit and Cotty (Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine respectively) who love to party. Desperate to escape their small-town life but lacking in funds, the girls rob a store with a fake gun and hit off for a decadent spring break experience in the heat of the Florida sun. Boys, booze and copious drug use follow, before a run in with the law introduces them to rapper/drug-dealer Alien (James Franco), a man who manages to pull the girls into an even seedier world.spring breakersSpring Breakers is brilliantly shot and very-well directed; for what could have been a trashy, summer teen movie, this is a remarkably accomplished visual treat. The colour palette pops and the cinematography – heavy on candy-bright pinks and glowing UV neon – gives the movie a garish phantasmagorical quality. There’s a dreamlike atmosphere to the movie, especially with how it’s edited; scenes seem to merge together out of chronological order, and dialogue is repeated throughout – at first, in drawn out, otherworldly speeches accompanying long slow-motion shots, but then we hear the same words again, in their correct, everyday context. The effect means that the movie seems to exist simultaneously in both the present and future, forcing the audience to guess where they are in the timeline, always looking back and forward. The strange editing, coupled with the striking use of imagery and colourful cinematography, gives a great impression of a drug-fuelled haze; few movies have captured the sense of substance fuelled abandonment as this one. Like The Bling Ring, the atmosphere here gives the movie an unreal quality which fits with the theme of responsibility, or more precisely, the lack of responsibility.spring3Korine knows how to frame a shot and the use of symmetry is almost Kubrickian at times – the boat/bridge shot near the end being an especially strong example of this. Everything is backed up by the bizarre and striking imagery; Spring Breakers really feels like something new at times, the oddness of it bordering on avant-garde, post-modernist cinema. There’s something haunting and odd about seeing bikini glad girls wearing pink ski-masks dancing in slow-mo with huge guns. Certain scenes are very powerful; the initial robbery stands out, tense even though we’re kept out of the action, and the infamous piano scene is one of the best of the year. It’s a slow-motion segway into a series of robberies and attacks scored to Britney Spear’s ‘Everytime,’ and unlike pretty much anything else; the scene is a great example of Korine’s vision perfectly formed on screen. Music is strong thoughout too – with a lot of EDM and heavy dubstep (Skrillex did the score) fitting the drug-fuelled hedonism on display, but also darker, more eerie moments with low synths, which sound almost like Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch scores. Spring Breakers is the ultimate cult movie, and succeeds in updating grindhouse material in a way which Tarantino would admire.spring7The movie is more of an exercise in style and the plot takes a back seat, though this isn’t a bad thing. What’s great about Spring Breakers is the way it moves through genres; beginning as a teen-focused party movie, it becomes a crime drama, before swinging into something else entirely when the girls meet Alien. And even then, once Alien is in the picture, the movie refuses to fall into the traps the audience expect it to; the girls do not become Alien’s sex slaves, at least not in the way you’d expect, and the drug plot with Gucci Mane pans out very differently to how you’d imagine. The film becomes more fragmented and dreamlike as it goes on, the feeling like being trapped in an eternal spring break, an idea reinforced by James Franco’s haunting ‘spring break…spring break forever’ which loops over the latter half of the film. It’s noticeable that the movie doesn’t stop for its characters; when some of the girls have been pushed too far, they simply get removed from the narrative – the effect being that this is more about the spring break experience than what the characters are going through. It’s fitting that by the end, the movie distils to the main two girls, the one’s who started it all, but leaves them in a world alien, violent and utterly unreal. The climax is powerful and haunting. spring5There’s an argument however about where the movie lies on the sexism scale; is Spring Breakers sexist, perverse trash, or is there something more going on here? On the subject of sexism, yes the movie does revel in its semi-naked young girls – who are always in bikinis, even when in court – and the camera does spend an inordinate amount of time rolling around their bodies. It’s exploitive, but so blatant you start to feel like that’s maybe the point, that we’re judging these women as objects and perhaps underestimating them. Kodine was going for satire rather than titillation, and honesty, the film doesn’t go as far as most teen comedies. The drug abuse is more apparent yes, but sex for the most part occurs off camera, and the movie is considerably more violent than it is pornographic; it’s an interesting sign of Western cinematic views that the sex aspects of the movie are demonised, whilst the gun and murder sequences are rarely mentioned. There’s also an argument to be made that Spring Breakers works as a feminist piece, and that it should be celebrated for its treatment of women. Why are the women to be judged for getting drunk, laid and out of their heads when they do it of their own free will? If the same movie had been made with four guys, would it have drawn as much attention? It’s noticeable that the girls are always in control here, and that the only male figure in the movie of note becomes somewhat submissive to them. Korine is always on the girls’ side, and makes it clear that they own the movie. spring6As for the cast, everyone is on top form, though credit has to be given to James Franco, who knocks it out of the park. Alien is a brilliantly trashy, Kevin Federline-style rapper and gangster, never outright threatening but with a hint of brewing menace, he represents the worst of the American Dream; capitalism at its most corrupt and excessive. The speech he gives about ‘all his stuff’ is a brilliant moment of comedy and aligns the movie with The Bling Ring in terms of social satire. The girls are great, if completely interchangeable. Vanessa Hudgens goes down the typical route of ex-Disney princesses here, but she has great screen presence and feels both sexy and dangerous. It’s a shame we don’t get to know more about the girls, beyond their need to escape their hometown, but the movie is less interested in them as characters, instead being more invested in their experiences, though we never quite know if they learn anything. Notice the contrast between the girls’ final phonecalls home to the drug-shootout which follows. What do they gain from this? Where do they go after this? Korine leaves these questions ambiguous.spring8Spring Breakers could have been absolute trash, and it’s easy to see how the material, in the hands of the wrong director, could have been an awful, pornographic and camp mess. Instead, we get an odd, semi-David Lynch dream satire with excellent acting and directing throughout, not to mention brilliant visuals and great use of music. It’s an ambiguous film, one hard to read, but one which will keep critics talking for years to come.

9/10

4 thoughts on “Spring Breakers

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  2. Excellent analysis of this one! I watched Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring back to back and the thematic similarities between them are very striking. I agree with lots of what you say here but despite a great admiration for how Korine breaks the teen movie mould here, I’m still unsure about whether I actually like this movie.

    • I get what you mean. I rewatched it recently and couldn’t decide if I really liked it; but then I feel it’s one of the best films of its year. It’s a difficult movie to pin down! I personally prefer The Bling Ring, but the two do make nice companion pieces.

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