Film review: Spring Breakers (2013)

Spring Breakers

Genre: Comedy/Satire

Cast: James Franco (Alien), Selena Gomez (Faith), Vanessa Hudgens (Candy), Ashley Benson (Brit), Rachel Korine (Cotty)

Director/writer: Harmony Korine

In a smart move, director Harmony Korine cast a group of former Disney Channel stars to intentionally challenge their clean and innocent image with a film that stops just short of being distasteful. There’s plenty of violence, suggestions of rape, and all other kinds of lewd acts packed within a 2 hour running time that tip toes the line of good taste with some shrewd directing and a very unique visual and musical palette.

Spring Breakers represents the dream of youth to engage their thirst for adventure, freedom and sex in an environment that is alien to the scripted routine of formal education. The desire, though universal, is presented in a decidedly American way, boasting the kind of larger-than-life behavior that has been popularized by Hollywood and ingrained into American culture. Some may say that Spring Breakers is also packed with social commentary. The film may indeed dive into excess and debauchery to demonstrate that our young often seek fun where there is none to be had, risking their lives in the process.

As the girls continue to make mistake after mistake to make their Spring Break “epic”, their lack of awareness finally catches up with them and they find themselves locked up in jail. This is a turning point where the film abandons the expected path filled with parties and alcohol, and takes on an entirely different character. Not one night after the girls are in jail, Alien (James Franco), drug dealer and young rapper, pays bail and takes all four girls under his wing.

Aside from his work in 127 hours, this is a departure from Franco’s recent slump of form. He delivers a performance that is remarkable in its effortless caricature of white rappers and drug dealers. His personality a cartoonish representation of American wild consumerism and greed. More importantly is that Franco seems to be having fun with the material, a far cry from the lackluster performances he has given as of late.

Except for Selena Gomez, who barely scratched the surface of her clean-cut image, the other three girls seem to have taken on meaty controversial roles that push the limits and test their abilities as actors. This is specially true in Vannesa Hudgen‘s case. The star of High School Musical and kid-friendly shows like Drake & Josh just oozes sex appeal, being by far the more provocative and interesting of the bunch and a nice counterweight to James Franco, who steals just about every scene he is in.

All along, Spring Breakers unfolds as if it is not a film grounded in reality. Its construction almost suggests an altered state, a kind of trance where the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred and time is almost extemporaneous. The musical choices are equally dissonant, a mockery (or tribute) of popular music with songs that are as ridiculous as the particulars of the plot but opposite on a thematic level. There is, for instance, a Britney Spears tune which turns into a performance where Franco plays the piano, as if he was delivering a classical piece, while the girls dance around with their faces covered by pink sky masks and holding long automatic weapons.

Though stylish and unique, the way in which the film is constructed feels a bit gimmicky, as if all that is trying to do is surprise us, challenging our limits by consciously pointing away from convention. It is similar to Cabin in the Woods in that it is far too preoccupied in being off the norm; an artistic exercise in comedic experimentation.

The stylistic choices also hinder the flow of the film. Though I understand the insistence on showing the same images over and over again to create a drug-induced atmosphere, the film never ceases to resort to the same device, refusing to push forward as if stuck in a loop.

Beyond the specifics of its construction, the humor in Spring Breakers is not for everyone, narrowed to a very specific type of movie-goer that might be able to get past the randomness and appreciate all of its irony, sarcasm and pop culture satire. At the end only one “word” comes to mind: YOLO

Rating: 3/5 (above average) – a film with its share of faults, but with a lot of intricaticies and comedic undertones that are worth the watch

Spring Breakers 2

4 thoughts on “Film review: Spring Breakers (2013)

  1. Did you tell your work buddy about this review? He’s the one that first showed me the trailer. I can’t say that I have a strong urge to see this, but I am going to see Star Trek II at the IMAX 3D! By the way, the ending of Cabin in the Woods made the movie worthwhile. Who knew unicorns could be so deadly?

    1. I did tell him. He hasn’t seen it because he’s unwilling to pay theater admission prices. He’ll wait for it to get to DVD/Blu-Ray.
      The ending of Cabin in the Woods was definitely the highlight, I’ll agree to that much.

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