Directed and Written by: Harmony Korine
Quick Review – 5/10
Spring Breakers is a difficult film. Visually stylish, it layers scenes of debauchery and ultimately becomes a half-hearted crime film that pulls equal parts religious propaganda against partying and Dante’s Inferno. At the same time no anchor into reality, overly idealized party scenes, and a complete emphasis on the negativity of everything occurring make the film come off as if it has an agenda that becomes uncomfortable at multiple times.
Spring Breakers is a film about four girls who decide to go to Spring Break. Surprise surprise. At first they don’t have enough money so they rob restaurant patrons, which gets them enough money for plane tickets, hotel rooms for multiple nights, and rentable scooters, somehow. The four girls range from the deceptively innocent looking Faith (Selena Gomez) to… well… The other three girls. When they get busted, James Franco, a crime lord of… Well… Robbing spring breakers, pays their bail and invites them to spend the rest of their spring break with him. They get slowly lost into a life of crime.
Now there are a few outstanding questions I’m sure everyone wants to know. The answer is NO to both of them. Selena Gomez does not take a step above her Disney Channel acting job into something more substantial and NO you do not get to see her breasts (not that you’d want to, considering she looks like she’s sixteen) but you DO get to see a LOT of breasts. In fact, I want to applaud this movie for so thoroughly wearing out the idea of topless women.
See, Spring Breakers is a film with an agenda, and it takes no pains to hide this. Spring Breakers wants you to get completely sick of the party scene. They spend the first thirty to forty minutes of the film showing no less than five extreme parties complete with enough debauchery that by the time this section of the film is over, you are sick of seeing naked breasts. In fact, your sick of several things: breasts, alcohol, cocaine, bong puffs, girls kissing each other, people grinding each other, the word “y’all”. Spring Breakers shoots and exposes you to these things on such a regular basis that the primary question you have while watching is, “Okay, what am I supposed to be getting from all of this?”
I could only settle on one. You are supposed to hate it. You are supposed to look at all these stupid college kids wasting their precious few brain cells on altered states of mind. You are supposed to be disgusted by them. When the main characters express the idea that their spring break is a “more spiritual place” you are meant to roll your eyes. How could these girls be so stupid? This freedom? What is it really? What draws them to this place?
And its with this premise that you know that the film is going to be about a spiral downwards. Whenever James Franco’s character bails the girl out, you know he’s the start of their spiral into a much darker place. They aren’t going to be the innocent, yet stupid, spring break girls they were before, no, now shit is real. How are they going to react when they hear the twins they met at the party are into double penetration? How will they feel when someone is pointing guns into the air and howling? Clearly they’re going to realize they’re in over their heads and try to get out, but realize that they can’t, because shit got real, and then they’ll learn their lesson, those little sluts.
Or at least, that’s how the film seems to see it. But what’s most interesting is that, all in all, none of the girls really suffer a lesson. They go through some shocks, sure, but when the film is said and done with, there isn’t any single of the four girls who is left standing in a pool of their own shit. The world did not collapse around them. They went in clean and came out clean. They hardly got any blood on their clothes to pay for all the stupid things they did.
The film lacks an anchor to realism. The parties they go to are the extremest of the extreme. A pure fantasy crafted by watching one too many movies, believing in one too many crazy party stories. Every party scene is shot to a commercialized music track. There’s hardly a single line spoken by someone who isn’t a main character. We have no scenes of dialogue at any of these parties. With no interaction with the actual scene, it leaves you wondering how truly immersed the filmmakers were in this lifestyle. These are not the scenes of an understanding individual. The entire film appears to be attempting to demonize this, and demonize what exactly?
The film shows us such blatant disregard for anything, that none of the characters feel real. Even the goody two shoed Faith only has one scene where she comes across as wholly sincere. We have nothing but over the top characters in over the top situations, and in such a way that you feel like the filmmakers are trying to make a statement about the real world, but instead they make a statement about only their built up idealized fantasy of what one of these “craaaaazy parties” they keep hearing about at church are like.
So the film is trying to demonize its own established fantasy. But perhaps I’m being too critical. Perhaps they are a little more spot on than I want to think. Yet the film constantly references the lifestyle as “spiritual, otherworldly, a dream,” or something along those lines. Its as if the film makers understand that this ideal is indeed just that. But it would’ve been nice to see that dream come crashing down at some point. Instead we end on the shot of two girls, fresh from a violent, yet bloodless, shoot out in a ferrarri driving to seemingly nowhere. Where’s the lesson? Where’s the backlash?
And yet, even in this, there seems to be a message. If they come out clean on the other side, what do they learn? Well nothing. The entire film they’ve been nothing but brainless, why would they suddenly acquire one?
I can hardly decide if the film is brilliant, silly, illustrative of the minds of real young people, or a complete slanderous propaganda. I could talk about it a lot, but at the end of the day, I am left with no clear answer.
Beyond the theoretical mumbo jumbo, there are several aspects to the film that gets me. Major issues I had include the use of repeated lines throughout the movie. They do this with utter abandon and the sixth or seventh time you hear that, “this is the american dream y’all,” you are sick to death of it. Now, its obviously repeated enough that you know the film makers are doing it on purpose, and it goes again to the above notion of trying to completely wear you out.
But the other aspect I feel is very important. In a character arc in the middle of the film, after James Franco bails out the girls, they go to a party, much more mild, much less rediculous and over the top than the first parties, and this time Faith decides its time for her to go home. What bugs me about this? The way in which the films uses its ideals to paint the picture. Imagine the white sandy beaches of Miami filled with college students. Did you just imagine nothing but white people with their clothes tenuously connected to their bodies? Well that’s what the film offers too.
When this shift changes, and Franco takes them to his party, nearly everyone there is black. This party isn’t anywhere near as crazy or debaucherous as the party the white college students were having, and now Selena Gomez wants out? What’s so bad about this one? There is nothing given to us at this point in the film, and its very easy to see how this ideal is suddenly lecherous, clinging only to one stereotype after another.
This is further exacerbated by the nature of Franco’s character. He describes himself as the only white kid in the neighborhood. And the way him, and the twins mentioned earlier who are also white, act is precisely like a fifteen year old who thinks he’s a gangster. He has dreadlocks, silver plated teeth, he talks in a gangster way. And, as it turns out, so does every black person there. In fact, in the party scene there isn’t a single black person with their pants around their hips, they are all sagging.
Seriously? I don’t even need to point out how racist that is? What do people honestly think? That every person dressed like that instantly thinks they’re gangster? Bull fucking shit. And by exacerbating these stereotypes and relying on them, the film does a considerable amount of harm to its position. If anything, this is where reality needed to crash down.
The fact that Franco’s gangster rival is a black man, and that the final shoot out is almost literally a scene of white versus black doesn’t help the case of the film. Almost everything in it is based off of old worn out stereotypes, and this is why the film gets the low score. Again, by employing only stereotypes the film presents enough evidence to know that you might not be able to take anything it says seriously. How about all the other scenes?
Ugh, I feel like the filmmakers have made a film with a very core purpose. I also feel like the film thoroughly accoplished that purpose. But in the end, I wanted to know what the film makers were getting at. How does this affect me? Why is it important? How does their idealized fantasy connect to the real world. And the reality is, only in one way. If this film succeeds in making anyone believe that any of what it showed was in the least a realistic portrayal, then its colored the world into a feeling of hatred. And that is something we do not need from our arts.
Final Score: 5/10