Film Review: Spring Breakers

by Gordon Elgart on March 22, 2013

James Franco as Alien in Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers

James Franco as Alien in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers

Written and Directed by: Harmony Korine

Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and James Franco

MPAA: Rated R for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout

While most movies are able to be judged in a vacuum, considering only what’s seen in the film itself, Spring Breakers is not most movies. It’s made so many headlines for the casting decisions (Disney headliners Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson) that it’s impossible to consider the movie without recognizing the outside cultural impact of putting these teen stars in the violent and oversexed world of director Harmony Korine. By the end of the film, though, the only thing that mattered to me was “How do we get James Franco an Oscar nomination for this?”

The plot details are fairly typical: group of college girls heads down to spring break in Florida, parties too much, gets in trouble with the law, and has to deal with the consequences of their actions. How this plot is presented, and the overall meaning, is completely different. There are flashbacks and flash forwards, and lines of dialog are repeated throughout the movie, each time in an attempt to give another layer of meaning to the words being spoken. Some lines are thought to be spoken by one character, but turn out to be the thoughts of a different one. It’s all very dreamlike, and this even becomes part of the text of the film toward the end.

One of the repeated lines comes from the incredible James Franco: “Spring break. Spring break forever.” This is the mantra of his character, an eminently quotable gangsta who lives a life of money, drugs and guns in St. Petersburg, Florida. During the second half of the movie, when you’ve forgotten that this was never just a movie about Alien, James Franco’s character, he plays a Britney Spears song, sitting poolside in front of the ocean, on a white piano, he gives a speech about how amazing his life is because people he doesn’t know sings along with his rap songs, and because he can watch Scarface on repeat. This character is scary and funny and amazing, and makes every scene without him become a pointless bore.

But what about the girls in bikinis? What about the nudity? How can that be a pointless bore? There’s an opening scene that becomes a repeated motif, showing people acting out spring break cliches to Skrillex, ripping off their tops while carousing on the beach in a messy mega-rager. It’s a scene setter because it’s the dream of spring break that the Disney college girls are looking for. There are plenty of awkward closeups of the various body parts of these girls, but that’s why you’ve come to this movie (and based on the marketing, it’s what they’re selling), you might be disappointed by just how unsexy it all is — Korine is the master of unsexy sex, and OMG stop being such a perv. It’s not that kind of movie.

Harmony Korine has made a good-not-great movie, and his first movie that has something resembling a standard film plot. His fans will like parts of it, but probably be disappointed by the third act. Moviegoers coming to see this because of the partying good times promised by the marketing will probably be disappointed as well. James Franco fans, though, will love it.

Spring Breakers opens in San Francisco Bay Area theaters today.

 

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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