Spring Breakers arrived in theaters last Friday only to confuse audiences around the country. The film begins practically pornographically, bare breasts splashed with beer and tan rears occupying the entire movie screen, accompanied by the aggressive sounds of Skrillex. It then flashes forward to the mundane and fictitious Kentucky College where four girls find they don’t have enough money to fund a spring break getaway to Florida. America’s darlings Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez—along with actresses Rachel Korine and Ashley Benson—rob a fast food restaurant using squirt guns and successfully escape to paradise, beginning their hedonistic journey. Bizarre sequences, plot twists, and improvised dialogue alienate moviegoers in a marriage of the avant-garde and the mainstream. Spring Breakers, directed by Harmony Korine, confounded most, but it’s classic tongue-in-cheek Korine. When asked in a recent, now infamous interview on Reddit, “Are we going to see lots of titties in the movie?” he responded, “of course. thats [sic] what lifes [sic] about.”
Harmony Korine has a history of writing films about life at its most disturbing and random. Though originally from Nashville, New York is where Korine belonged and where he could surround himself by every type of character he could write into his films. His first film, Kids, is a very real portrayal of the young, amoral teenagers he witnessed in the city. He wrote the script for Kids at just nineteen, after having dropped out of NYU after one semester, living in his grandmother’s basement in Queens and spending his days with the skaters and stoners in Washington Square Park. In the blazing New York summer Korine blended the sinister and the carefree, writing about kids staying out all night, experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and unprotected sexual activity, while lying, stealing, and spreading diseases. The beginning and the ending are most shocking, featuring violent sex scenes between kids still in middle school. You can’t look away.
His next film, Gummo, is even more terrifying, written and directed when Korine was just 24. It opens with a shirtless and shivering boy squatting on a highway overpass wearing pink bunny ears and smoking a cigarette. The film features sketch scenes, including Chloë Sevigny with her eyebrows shaved off, a boy with an oddly-shaped head sitting in a dirty bathtub of brown water eating a plate of spaghetti with a piece of bacon inexplicably taped to the wall, and young teenagers huffing glue and shooting cats with BB guns to sell to a local restaurant. The film is an assaulting, dark look at America in the inbred and tornado-devastated town of Xenia, Ohio. His next works, such as Julien Donkey-Boy and Trash Humpers are just as disturbing, with tiny distributions and profits and near-universal negative reviews.
Korine finds his motivation from the revolting, and thus his films require a degree of mental preparation. He believes that the idea of independent film is inherently fallacious and films describing themselves as such are garbage. According to Harmony, independent films are just mainstream movies that look ugly, so it’s not surprising that he has little to no connection with other directors and filmmakers. He’s an outlier of cinema, and has been exhaustively called an enfant terrible. In the aforementioned Reddit interview, Korine stated, “cinema has changed. cinema is now a 30 second youtube clip. clear your mind. think of different now. make it bend to you. never use a walking stick, it looks doper to limp. catch my drift?” Not really, but it means that Spring Breakers is not a movie to watch holding any expectations.
Spring Breakers is both a period piece and a pop poem. It’s a comedy that’s not just dark, but pitch black. Ironically, though, the film is saturated with aqua blues, magentas, and acid greens accompanied by music composed by Skrillex, making the film a sensory experience. The energy, engulfing sound, and attacking images of thousands of teenagers and twenty-somethings clad in next to and sometimes nothing entertain the viewer as they party and snort cocaine off of each other’s bodies. Unsurprisingly, when asked whether society might benefit from the film, Korine said, “yes it will thrive because of this.”
The casting is impeccable, with ex-Disney stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens only barely recognizable in bleached-blonde hair, as they attempt to rip up their rated-G roots. The two are flanked by Ashley Benson and Korine’s wife, Rachel Korine, who sports pink tresses. Selena’s character is the resident sweetheart, aptly named Faith. Before going on spring break, she sings in prayer circles and goes to church, and doesn’t buy into the life of crime she meets in Florida, jumping ship about halfway through the movie. Gucci Mane is a gem in the film, playing a local enemy drug lord “Big Arch” who has an ice cream cone tattooed on his face. Korine is playful with Mane’s character, having allegedly referred to Gucci as “Scoochi” on set and describes the girl in Gucci’s sex scene as, “it was fun she was twirkin.” Mane might go down in history as saying “My wrists sparkle like lemons.”
But the actor who truly steals the show is James Franco, who plays the white-trash small time pest-like criminal known as Alien. In Franco, Korine found the perfect player to carry his penchant for vaudeville and showmanship. Franco holds up much of the film with his improvisations that left me in fits of laughter in the theater. He is both king and court jester, playing Britney Spears on a white piano at sunset by a swimming pool surrounded by girls wearing hot pink balaclavas and sweatpants emblazoned with “DTF,” dancing with AK-47’s. Franco’s comedy hits a high point when the two blonde girls join him in the bedroom, where he brags about and shows off all of his pairs of shorts, his Calvin Klein cologne, his varied weapons including nun chucks, and where Vanessa Hudgeons forces him to fellate a loaded gun.
But Harmony’s writing wasn’t consistent, and his smarts and sass don’t come through outside of James Franco and Gucci Mane. The female leads especially lack in any dialogue, let alone the clever exchanges Korine is capable of crafting. The movie had the potential to be funnier or darker, but it occupied an awkward middle ground that detracted from the viewing experience. The girls’ behavior and talk felt redundant, and the ending lacked the same catharsis as his other movies. But one motif that the director perpetuated was the reality also found in his movie Kids. Korine used real college students on spring break in his alcohol-fueled Skrillex montages, Selena’s prayer circle had an actual pastor, and the ATL twins that played Franco’s cronies allegedly lead pretty much the same lives as they do in the film.
Korine is predictably unpredictable. I left the film neither surprised nor satisfied, but I secretly wanted to head down to Florida for spring break. Korine doesn’t care about the film’s drawbacks. He never listens to criticism and continues his devil-may-care attitude: wanting his next film to be about “super gangstas,” but conceding that that could mean almost anything. “WHY ARE YOUR MOVIES SO HORRIBLE” exclaimed a Reddit user. “Why is your face like a douche,” Korine replied.