Review: ‘Spring Breakers’

Spring Breakers opens with a two minute shot of a raucous beach party, shot in hyper-real slow motion. The colors are near blinding, the music deafening. Men pour beer bottles out onto women’s bare breasts. Everyone’s mouth is open in like a capital letter “D” –  smiles pervade. The shot continues. It presents itself as an idealized version of the perfect party.

There is nobody above 21 in this shot – youth is captured in a way that by minute two you start finding faults in the shot. Why are they laughing? Who’s party is this? What is the point of this? Where are the adults? The last conscious thought I had before the scene abruptly ends was…

Who is going to clean up?

The shot itself establishes the entire movie. Spring Breakers is about a party, and the sacrifices that must be made to keep the party going. Spring Breakers is about fleeting youth. It’s a fascinating movie – one that I believe will still be watched twenty years from now as a cult favorite, a name whispered by tomorrow’s 17 year olds long after the movie’s intended audience of today have grown up.

I’ll also predict that it will bomb, too, commercially, but we’ll get to that later.

The only two gripes I have – and I should just get this out of the way at the beginning – is firstly, the film’s understanding of itself. The first forty or so minutes, while simultaneously harrowing and marvelous, are filled with the four main female characters whispering / chanting “spring break!”. This was the only part of the film that I thought was particularly heavy-handed. Make no mistake: Spring Breakers’s cup spilleth over with color and visual cues. This movie is the definition of overload. Secondly, there are times – particularly with Vanessa Hudgens’s ‘Candy’ character – where the dialogue seems forced, and unreal. This is how Harmony Korine writes movies, though, and is to be expected. This is the same guy who wrote “Kids” and “Mister Lonely”.

Once you have an understanding of how Korine writes and tells a story, the rest of the movie is fascinating, jawdropping, and surreal in the very definition of the word. In one scene, James Franco serenades three of the girls with a Britney Spears ballad on a white piano as they dance in a circle wearing pink ski masks, holding guns, under a pink setting sun. In another scene, you see two identical male twins doing coke off of an ex-Disney star’s stomach.

The first hour of the movie centers around four friends who rob a restaurant to pay for an epic spring break party. The latter half centers around their relationship with a white rapper / drug dealer named Alien, played with a bizarre degree of sensitivity by James Franco. I don’t know how Franco did it, but he manages to turn what could have been a cartoonish character into a fully rounded person. Alien is – oddly – the most charming presence in the film. For a character that spends much of the movie talking about how much money and guns he has, you find yourself rooting for him.

Rapper Gucci Mane shows up with a rather subtle (if underused) turn as a rival drug dealer. His presence highlights the realities of the drug trade: for much of the movie we’ve been bombarded by colorful imagery of young people smoking enormous amounts of pot and doing rail after rail of cocaine. Gucci Mane’s scenes in the movie perfectly offset these images with a far more menacing (if, again, perhaps too little-seen) approach to the realities of narcotics and partying. Gucci does well here, as does ex-Disney star and Justin Bieber’s ex girlfriend Selena Gomez. Both performances provide just enough gravitas to keep the party going. After all, it isn’t a great party until something breaks, right?

If you need a reason to see the movie, I’ll give you two reasons, encapsulated by two scenes. During both of them I had my jaw open. First is the scene, shot entirely in hyper-vivid slow motion, of a robbery taking place to (another) Britney Spears song. The scene lasts the whole song. It’s beautifully done. The second is when two of the girls make James Franco simulate fellatio on two loaded guns.

So, a movie where the hot dopey guy from Pineapple Express simulates a blowjob with two loaded guns, one of which is being held by an ex-Disney starlet. This isn’t being done for effect. It is done, if you take it within the context of the whole movie, in an incredibly intelligent way. Spring Breakers is one of the best movies of the year.

But it may bomb. The movie presents itself to an intended audience as a raucous teen heist movie and pulls a classic bait-and-switch, transforming halfway through into a lesson about consequences and actions and, again, fleeting youth. But it is a magnificent, bold movie. It is visually stunning, and a day later I’m still haunted by it’s message: that although youth is fleeting, perhaps it is better that way.

Leaving the movie theater I happened to glance over at a sign advertising the clothing store “Forever 21”. It was oddly apt. America is obsessed with youth and youth culture and holds it in such high regard that the consequences be damned. The fact is, nobody can ever be forever twenty-one. Nobody can be young forever, yet we as a society are stuck in a nostalgia loop, enamored by own own past to the point where we’ve darned the future and are only truly conscious of the present when it happens to other people. Which is what makes Spring Breakers pop: for all the bright colors and wild violence, there are moments in which the characters themselves seem to question how real it all is. Watch James Franco’s face or Selena Gomez’s face closely. There are lucid moments where you can see the characters ask themselves how they got to where they are.

The thing about Spring Breakers is that it highlights that schism between those with the youth and those who desire it: it shows what happens when you try to hold on to something as intangible as a great party and as momentary as age. These things weren’t meant to be held onto forever. Spring Breakers brilliant (I would go as far as to say revelatory) coup is that it shows what happens after the party in as stark and as hyper-real tone as the party itself.

Spring Breakers is a highly intelligent movie masquerading as a teenage sexual romp, and perhaps in that aspect the film is too intelligent for it’s own good. However, the takeaway is clear: no matter how great the party was, someone has to clean up the mess.

You are reminded of this in the film’s closing minutes.