Spring Breakers

Spring BreakersSynopsis: Spring break foreverrrr…Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are best friends anxious to cut loose for spring break, but they don’t have the money. After holding up a restaurant for quick cash, the girls head to the beach in a stolen car for what they think will be the party of a lifetime…until they’re thrown in jail. But they are bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a local rapper, drug pusher and arms dealer, who lures them into a criminal underbelly that’s as shocking as it is liberating!

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Spring Breakers 7.25

eyelights: James Franco’s transformation. Vanessa Hudgens’ transformation. its endless eye candy.
eyesores: its relative plotlessness. its repetitiveness. its unlikely finale.

“This is the fuckin’ American dream.”

Spring Break. Over the decades it’s taken on a larger than life quality. What was once just a simple sun-filled escape from one’s college routine has since become a paean to careless debauchery and conformity. Ironically, it’s been neatly wrapped up in the guise of harmless fun and personal freedom.

But it’s only skin deep.

‘Spring Breakers’, the 2013 motion picture by Harmony Korine is equally superficial. Though it’s been marketed as a satirical drama, it’s a repetitive, thin picture that is more content serving up images of nubile young people partying than it is in developing its characters and pushing its purported message.

It follows Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty as they dream of leaving the doldrums of their smalltown routine for the fantasy world of Spring Break. Short on cash due to poor financial skills, the party girls rob a small chicken shack and then beeline to St. Petersburg, Florida, in the pursuit of endless pleasures.

But trouble awaits as they get rounded up in a police bust and are bailed out by a local rapper, gangsta and playa monikered Alien. Under his influence, the girls get caught up in an underground lifestyle of drugs, guns and crime, tearing the friends apart and leading some of them to the brink of disaster.

Frankly, though it does illustrate the absurdity of our quintet fairly well, ‘Spring Breakers’ doesn’t bring to the plate anything new from a plot perspective. But it does redeem itself by serving up some transformative performances from James Franco and Vanessa Hudgens, who are near-unrecognizeable here.

Franco offers the most remarkable performance as Alien, a tressed, tattooed and grilled white hood who thinks that he’s living the “American Dream” by dealing drugs, owning weapons and surrounding himself with excessive consumption. He proudly displays his many belongings to the girls as tokens of his success.

Franco is both creepy and hilarious in the part. Alien is a deluded individual, but he’s very focused in achieving his goals – to the degree that he emotionally manipulates people. The way he preys on the girls is disturbing, though one quickly realizes that it’s the only technique that he knows of.

Alien is hilarious with his big toothy, metallic grin, talking a good game to impress the girls – who are too naive to see how pathetic he truly is. Franco loses himself so completely in the part that, if I hadn’t known ahead of time that it was him, I’d never have recognized him. It’s quite the performance.

The same goes for Vanessa Hudgens, who sheds her good girl image completely here as Candy, one of the bigger risk-takers of the four friends. Though the character’s personality is nearly interchangeable with the other three, Hudgens is lost in the character in a way that you’d never have imagined before.

The whole cast is very good and the quartet gels really well, giving the impression that they are, in fact, close friends. Even the supporting players are excellent, though they don’t have much to work with other than a few lines here and there. If anything, they’re asked to play extensions of themselves.

The dialogues are the hardest bit to chomp down on: though the images are often dead serious, it’s unclear if the exchanges were intended to be silly/ironic or if they’re supposed to reflect a perceived reality. In any event, I found myself chuckling with condescension at the characters’ statements of belief.

It all started with the tattooed preacher who nearly sexualized Christ to reach the youth in front of him, then with the girls’ conviction that they’d found themselves in Florida, as though it was a spiritual awakening, and continued with Alien’s patently vacuous boasts to starstruck Candy and Brit.

The imagery was also difficult to process: was Korine highlighting the insanity of Spring Break to better illustrate its hollowness? Or to glorify it? It’s hard to say, since he clearly enjoyed sexualizing the young people there – especially the women, who are nothing more than sex objects in this context.

This leads to the inevitable question: is it a feminist or an anti-feminist film?

From one perspective, it shows women who are self-empowered and who are equals to men, partying hard like they do, being risk-takers just like they are. Fine. Except that one can’t help but see their exploitation, as mere arm candy, especially in the gangsta environment they fall into.

And it’s hard to see them as empowered when they go everywhere in nothing but their bikinis.

This all leads to the finale, which finds Candy and Brit joining Alien in his criminal lifestyle, wearing pink ski masks and toting guns. This sight was already pretty ridiculous, but I wonder if this will be naively viewed as a blueprint worth following in much the same way that ‘Scarface’ is in some circles.

I hope not.

The thing is, despite Korine’s weak attempt to illustrate the upcoming danger by overdubbing the sound of guns being cocked, the whole ending is pure fantasy, a daydream for those who face the future with hopelessness and/or impotence. It recklessly creates the illusion of an easy way out for them.

It’s irresponsible.

‘Spring Breakers’ may be seen as satire by some, but it’s going to be taken at face value by many, if only because its satire isn’t clearly defined, unlike the way that it is in ‘American Psycho‘. And so its observations of the lifestyle’s superficiality will be seen as a celebration, not as a warning.

And it should be viewed as a cautionary tale – not just for the youth of today but for our North American society as a whole. When there’s such a growing disconnect between reality and fiction that we abhor the present and make choices based strictly on short-term gratification, what becomes of our future?

What happens after Spring Break? Can you ever go home again?

Story: 6.0
Acting: 8.0
Production: 7.5

Nudity: 5.0
Sexiness: 3.0
Explicitness: 3.0

Date of viewing: January 15, 2016

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