“Spring Breakers” is a gaudy exercise in callousness and recklessness. All these girls in the movie want is to get out of their boredom, and they certainly get it when they arrive in St. Petersburg, Florida. While usually wearing bikinis or short sleeve tops on their bodies, they carelessly hurl themselves into alcohol, drug, sex, and violence, and we are rather amazed by how far they go just for enjoying themselves.
And then, at some point, the movie goes into a far darker territory under the bleaching sunlight and the lurid night lights of Florida, and we begin to be horrified by what some of them are willing to do without any consideration about the consequence of their actions. Whatever sense of morality or ethics they had, they have already discarded it away, and it seems these young girls do not have any serious thought about the circumstance they are put into even when they have some time to think about it.
They are Candy(Vanessa Hudgens), Brittany(Ashley Benson), Faith(Selena Gomez), and Cotty(Rachel Korine, the director/writer Harmony Korine’s wife). They are college students studying in some university in Kentucky, and we see them waiting for spring break as going through the mundane daily life at their campus. They all look bored during their lectures or meetings, and they are all eager for the freedom outside the campus they will relish during the upcoming spring break.
Spring break finally starts, but it does not look good from the beginning. When they find that they are short of cash despite their savings, Candy, Brittany, and Cotty choose a drastic measure for solving their problem. Wearing ski mask and equipped with hammers and fake guns, they rob a fast food shop and get the money more than they want. You may find this pretty ridiculous because they commit this crime merely for not being the losers remaining in the campus, but haven’t we heard about teenagers committing felony because of petty reasons in these days?
The story soon moves to St. Petersburg, and you see raunchy youthfulness everywhere along with lots of half-naked or nearly naked boys and girls. They drink lots of beer, they sometimes sniff cocaine, and, of course, they have a fun with their nice bodies. The movie naturally features lots of bare body parts throughout its running time, and I must say that it has more breasts and buttocks than Russ Meyer’s immortal trashy film “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”(1970), which was incidentally written by my late friend Roger Ebert and had a memorable line perfect for describing what is shown during the lewd night party scenes of “Spring Breakers”: “This is my happening and it freaks me out!”
If you watched “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”, you probably remember that weird Svengali-like character nicknamed Z-man, and “Spring Breakers” has its own weird charismatic character to be encountered by its girls. He is nicknamed ‘Alien’, and he is memorably played here by James Franco, who gives a striking impression on us right from his first scene with grilled teeth, big sunglasses, and odd, cocky behaviors.
The girls happen to meet him when they are brought to the local court 2 days after being arrested and then jailed for their latest night adventure(they are still wearing bikinis when brought to the court, by the way). He pays their bail, and the girls gladly follow him once they get out of the court. He introduces himself to them as a local drug dealer and a rapper, and the girls are dazzled by his excessive lifestyle represented by a fancy sports car and a big beach mansion whose chief interior decorations are various firearms. Franco has an amusing moment while Alien shows them around his house; when Alien points out his guns one by one, he looks as if he were a gleeful innocent child brandishing his precious toys in front of other kids.
As seduced and cajoled by Alien, the girls find themselves involved in his criminal activities, and that is where the movie takes a darker turn as fueled by Franco’s compelling performance. The situation becomes more serious, but they behaves as if they were playing a fancy game, so we even get a darkly humorous scene where the girls cheerfully prepare their crime with guns and pink ski masks as Alien leisurely plays a Britney Spears song with his piano near them.
The director/writer Harmony Korine handles his story with a stylish but clinical approach, and this approach works in most cases although it looks stylized too much at times due to its heavy use of artificial lights and frequent internal narration. In spite of lots of sensational sights, the movie observes its characters and their transgressive behaviors in a detached view while vividly presenting that loud, hedonistic atmosphere of spring break, and it feels less exploitative than it could have been as a result.
It also has the voice of common sense as a contrast to its superficial decadence, and that comes from Faith, a good Christian girl who increasingly feels that they really should go back to the campus right now. She can overlook the fact that her dear friends committed a robbery because she wants to have a free naked fun along with them, but, especially after encountering Alien, she is disturbed by what’s happening around them – and to them. A small scene between Franco and Gomez looks pretty much like a sleazy pimp persuading his prostitute; she is nervous and really wants to leave, and he slyly appeals to her to change her mind with sweet, persuasive words.
“Spring Breakers” works to some degrees thank to competent direction and good performances. Although they were surely cast because of their physical appearances, four actresses in the movie acquit themselves well as good performers, and Franco is a lot more enjoyable to watch here than his recent appearance in “Oz the Great and Powerful”(2013). I felt distant to its content due to my cultural background, and I did not care much about these shallow and immature characters in the movie, but I could appreciate a sad, bitter feeling at its ending. This is not my definition of fun, but I can admire its style and attitude at least.