With the recent announcement of a Spring Breakers sequel in the works and James Franco’s public dismissal of it, let’s revisit the reasons why this overnight cult classic made such an impact upon first release. Ultimately, sequels rarely bring in much to movie franchises except half-hearted attempts at extra profits, and this case looks to be no exception. If you haven’t yet joined in on the neon fun, now’s the time.
Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is like movie marmite: you either love it or hate it. Either way, you’re not quite sure what it was that you just watched. It’s the kind of film that definitely merits multiple viewings, because not only do you get to see twice the amount of nakedness, slow-motion dancing, and scandalous costumes, but you’ll appreciate the stunned and disbelieving responses of those around you experiencing it for the first time.
Spring Breakers traces the antics of Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashely Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine – yes, that is the director’s stunning wife in a fishnet neon top with candy-cotton colored hair), four college friends who rob a highway diner in order to afford their lavish spring break vacation. After several intoxicated days in the Florida Keys, the girls’ wild partying and philosophical musings screech to a halt after they are arrested for possessing drugs. Luckily a local pimp, Alien, (James Franco) bails out the bikini-clad delinquents and lures them into his own world of excess, replete with designer clothes, guns on his bedroom wall, and all the expected treasures of a true ‘G’. His fast life is marred by a rivalry with fellow gangster Archie (Gucci Mane), however, and Alien has to find a way to protect his new soulmates as the stakes in the thugs’ feud grow ever higher.
Spring Breakers makes no apologies for its loud, crass, and in-your-face…well, everything. From the slow-motion shots of topless girls partying on the beach (these ain’t the kind you’d ever find at your alma mater), to the ritualistic keg-chugging and coke-sniffing expertly undertaken by crowds of undergrads, to the repeated mantra of ‘spring break forever, bitches…’, it’s hard to say whether Korine has authored a tacky music video or a cult classic encapsulating the voice of a generation. Whether it’s in piano renditions of Britney Spears or neon costumes for which David Bowie would slaughter his own stylist, Spring Breakers carefully treads the line between laugh-out-loud ridiculousness and a self-awareness bordering on critique surrounding this annual college ‘cultural’ phenomenon. When Faith and Candy call their parents to convince them that they have ‘made friends for a lifetime’ and are ‘really finding themselves’, we don’t know whether to scoff at their naïveté or envy their impossible adventures. Ultimately, the film’s strength lies in its ability to allow us to live vicariously through its cookie-cutter characters, experiencing the beauty of their excess-driven, pop-culture whirlwind lifestyle even as it exposes its limits.
The film’s stunning production design crafted by Elliott Hostetter generates a visceral, alluring world that elevates the trashy and the forgettable to the realm of the luscious. With its 80s, neon-infused ultraviolet aesthetic, the film falls somewhere between the tastelessness of Miami Vice and the measured splendor of Drive, ultimately infusing Florida’s touristy clichés with something approaching artistry – or at the very least, a tolerable landscape. Cinematographer Benoit Debite likewise sculpts shots so lovingly, the throngs of half-naked partygoers seem oddly imbued with an elusive spirituality, as if they alone had discovered the true meaning of life seconds before passing out from inebriation.
A final pleasant surprise awaits within the performances in the film. Nothing truly unusual or even fairly innovative can be extracted from the four leading ladies. Yet they play the part of drunken young adults with such naturalness, one wonders whether they diligently employed Stanislavski’s Method or simply walked on set after hours of pregaming to ‘get into character’. Franco is easily the revelation of the film, embracing the role of Alien with a balanced seriousness and irony that makes him a pleasure to watch. He fully commits to the part in a way rarely seen in his other roles, and for the first time achieves the goal of any major actor: to transform so completely he becomes virtually unrecognizable.
Generally, it’s best to approach Spring Breakers like a weekend trip to Vegas: you have to let everything go and embrace the tackiness and the artifice in order to have fun, or you’ll just end up resenting everyone around you and texting your significant other about nothing in particular just to convince yourself you have something better to do.