If Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez are actively seeking to shed themselves of their Disney Channel image, then they took a step in the right direction by agreeing to appear in a Harmony Korine film. In his latest effort, Spring Breakers, he encourages both young actresses – along with his wife, Rachel Korine, and Ashley Benson – to plunge headfirst into the debauchery and excesses commonly associated with Spring Break, from sex to drinking to drugs. He even adds crime into the equation, perhaps as a way to give the girls extra naughtiness to indulge in, but in all likelihood as a way to make his film that much more twisted. I honestly don’t know whether or not this is a good film, but I do know that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it. There’s something eerily hypnotic about it, like a grisly crime-scene photo you’re disgusted by yet cannot stop staring at.
Korine sets the stage with a cinematic montage of scantily-clad teenagers engaging in Spring Break revelries on a beach. It’s not as arousing as it might seem; much of the footage is shot in surreal slow motion, and ominous counterpoints can be heard in the music. There’s the sense that, whatever fun these kids are having, there will be a price to pay somewhere down the line. We’re then transported to an unexciting urban landscape and are introduced to four college-age girls, whose lives are revealed more through imagery and creative editing than through straightforward passages of dialogue. There’s Brit (Benson), Candy (Hudgens), Cotty (Korine), and Faith (Gomez), who, as her name implies, is a Christian – albeit a lazy one, as evidenced by prayer meetings in which she’s essentially a nonparticipant.
These girls are bored, naïve, and, to varying degrees, reckless. None of them are innocent. Some, however, are more innocent than others. When it’s determined that they don’t have enough cash for a Spring Break vacation, they resort to robbing the patrons of a chicken restaurant with plastic water pistols and a great deal of loud swearing. The scheme works; they take a bus to Florida, and within no time, they partake in all manner of youthful tomfoolery, shown visually as yet another cinematic montage. One party gets a little too rowdy, and the girls are arrested. For reasons not made entirely clear, they’re bailed out by a man they don’t know. This would be Alien, a rapper and gangster from St. Petersburg. His real name is Al, but he insists that he’s from another planet.
Alien is played by James Franco. Love it or hate it, his performance could rank as one of the most memorable he has ever given. Sporting cornrows and grills on his teeth, he’s virtually unrecognizable. He speaks with a thick ghetto accent that’s intimidating yet indescribably charming. His character makes no bones about his life of crime, which largely involves smuggling and selling drugs. If anything, he’s mighty proud of himself, and it seems he wants to draw the girls into his crime ring and share the spoils of his lifestyle. It’s at this point we discover who amongst the girls bit off more than she could chew and who is in fact a latent gangster finding her true calling. Not everyone stays through to the end. Indeed, one of them exits the story fairly early on. This isn’t the most satisfying narrative tactic, but then again, the film is anything but conventional.
As a turf war wages with the ruthless Big Arch (rapper Gucci Mane), Alien and the remaining girls take their relationship to the next level with a scene of sexual foreplay that’s just as intriguing as it is disturbing. The gender roles are traditional at first, with the exception that Alien asserts his male dominance with his guns rather than his penis. But then, quite suddenly, the roles are reversed; the girls claim his guns – or, more accurately, claim their own phallic symbols – and threaten him into submission with verbal abuse. Within a matter of seconds, he has allowed himself to succumb to their power. When commanded, he will perform oral sex on not one but two gun barrels, and yes, the guns are loaded. For obvious reasons, there cannot be a figurative form of orgasm, lest we see Alien’s brains blown out.
One of the girls, whose identity will not be revealed by me, leaves her mother a message with her cell phone. We will hear it twice, the first time not long after the girls arrive in Florida, the second time at the end of the film. When initially heard, we’re made to think it’s a blatant lie, that this girl is merely trying to placate her worried mother. When heard again at a crucial point, we realize that, in an indirect way, she told her mother the terrifying truth. The effect was nothing less than chilling. Is that what Spring Breakers is about? Discovering and embracing your inner criminal? Korine has stated that he doesn’t feel the need to justify or explain his films, but on the basis of what I saw, I wonder if he unconsciously slipped a theme into this particular screenplay. Even if he didn’t, the film is still likely to inspire a number of rather interesting conversations.
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