Movie Review – Spring Breakers (2012)

Spring Breakers, 2012.

Written and Directed by Harmony Korine.
Starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine.

Spring Breakers movie poster


Four American College girls chase freedom and the American Dream as they head to Florida for Spring Break.

Spring Breakers


Part of me wants to love Spring Breakers, and there are many moments in the film which are deserving of high praise, but there are many other moments and the overall message I feel it tried to convey which are not.  The story follows 4 college girls, Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine), and their attempts to make it to spring break.  Immediately Korine shows us that Candy, Brit and Cotty are more morally ambiguous than Faith, and are far more accustomed to the partying, drug taking and promiscuous lifestyle than their friend Faith, who sits on the outside of the group.  After a two minute opening sequence of naked revelers on a sun and alcohol soaked beach, Korine cuts to the drab and grey existence of the college in which the girls inhabit.  Cutting between scenes of Candy and Brit studying and future scenes of them and Cotty smoking bongs and passed out with scenes of Faith at a prayer meeting, Korine shows us how much Faith differs from her friends.

Short of money and with spring break out of their site, Candy, Brit and Cotty devise a plan to rob a restaurant to gain the money they need to afford the trip.  This is a great scene, and Korine utilises excellent camera techniques here as we only see the robbery through the windows, viewing the action from the getaway car as it circles the building.  Having obtained the money, it’s off to spring break, and immediately the girls thrust themselves in to the party scene, partaking in the drink, drugs and sex that are so aligned with that culture.  It doesn’t take too long however before things go very awry for the girls when they are arrested, and it is then that they meet the mysterious Alien, played absolutely fantastically by James Franco; he is on fire lately and this is a great performance.  Alien invites the girls in to a world they’ve never seen before, and only Faith finds it disturbing, and with her desperate pleas for her friends to follow her home falling on deaf ears, she takes off alone.  From here the remaining three get deeper in to Alien’s gangster world and engage in completely immoral acts, which become completely indefensible.  It goes beyond partying and taking drugs as they truly become ‘gangstas’, living the “American Dream” and making money as they terrorise others.

One of my main problems with the film is what I took from it and that is: if you are young and like to party and get drunk, you’re out of control – as personified by Candy, Brit and Cotty – and so you should, and here it is… seek faith / religion.  It is no coincidence that the character called Faith, who goes to church, is the one to leave early and thus take no part in the illegal activities.  It is so heavy handed that I can’t believe it hasn’t been picked up on more.  Second problem is that it lumps all of youth culture who like to party in to this seedy world and condemns them all for trying to have a good time.  Had the character of Faith not been a church goer, nor called Faith, that wouldn’t have been so much of a problem. It would have given a nice contrast between those who break the law and live life with no regard for others with the ordinary girl who just wants to have a good time.  As it is, the good girl who just wants to have a good time is religious, and so it’s either you are religious and live the good life, or you’re an out of control teenager who commits depraved acts.

Deep in to the third act, Cotty is shot.  Cotty has thus far, whilst being a part of the initial robbery and a part of the montage of sequences which show the girls descent in to major criminal behaviour, been primarily a follower, as it is Candy and Brit who form the close relationship with Alien and spur on the events of the film.  Having been shot in the arm, Cotty realises ‘spring break is over’ and heads home whilst the others stay.  This is where the film fails in its critique of the lifestyle that Alien and the two remaining girls revel in, as once Cotty leaves the now trio wage war on Alien’s rival.  The girls commit multiple murders.  They cross a line they can never come back from.  However, a simple phone call from the girls to home to tell their mothers how they miss them and how ‘they’ve changed’ and ‘want to be the best they can be’ is all Korine gives us.  That doesn’t cut it.  The girls who committed the most illegal and most immoral acts suffer absolutely no consequences from their actions, while the two who left early suffered the most.  Cotty was shot, which was comeuppance for her actions, and Faith suffered major traumatic stress despite actually doing nothing wrong.  What kind of message is that?

All of that coupled with the absurd number of times Korine flashes to naked female bodies left me feeling that this film was nothing more than an excuse to get Disney girls to do bad things and to film plenty of naked women.  There is no great message here – in fact I see conflicting ones: a message about having faith being your moral saviour and the message that the ending of the film gives, which is that you can do what you want and drive away in a Lamborghini completely free and safe from reprisal.

There is a shot early in the film which sums up a lot of the films indulgences and objectification of women.  Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson are in a swimming pool talking and the camera draws closer to the girls from the other side of the pool and, like a predatory shark, dips below the water to view the girls bodies.  This adds nothing to the scene nor says anything in particular, it’s just a glaring objectification. That might have been the point, but with the film never makes a statement about this issue, and so the image has no reason for being and thus looks shameless.  There is an interesting piece of dialogue spoken by Alien, as he remarks how pretty the ocean looks, but that there are sharks under the waves that you cannot see, what vicious m*other f*ckers they are, and that the girls should be careful.  With his other statements about the American Dream and the pursuit of money, Korine was possibly trying to make a statement about greed and the selfish beings we have become in the search for our own happiness.  The ocean represents the great big world that exists out there for the girls (us) to explore and dive in to seizing the moment, but there are monsters out there who will show us no mercy in pursuit of their goals.  The sharks are the money chasers, the Aliens of the world, the bankers who are out only for themselves.  However, because of the ending, the message doesn’t work.

I began this review by saying there were parts I loved, and there were.  All of the girls do a great job, Gomez and Hudgens especially.  Franco is incredible to watch and there’s great chemistry between he, Hudgens and Benson.  The film is also visually stunning, neon lit and Korine’s camera work and style of shooting coupled with the soundtrack and the bright, vivid colours give the film a dream-like feel which puts us in the position of the girls as they live the dream they so crave.  One scene in particular is a surreal experience: the piano sequence.  I have yet to get that Britney Spears song out of my head as the sweet and – as Alien points out – angelic voice and perception of Miss Spears juxtaposed with the violent images of the three American college girls, one of whom a former Disney girl like Spears herself, is an excellent piece of film making.  Korine uses sight and sound to incredible effect – even if it does get a little ridiculous and comedic at one point, the overall idea is brilliant.

I did so want to like this film.  I wanted to love it actually, but unfortunately with the mixed bag of horrendous messages the film conveys and the lack of any real substance among the glaringly self-indulgent sexual images repeatedly on show to no real effect, I came out not liking it very much at all.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ / Movie ★ ★

Martin Deer

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