‘Spring Breakers’: Late, but we’ll take it

By on April 9, 2013

Spring Break, oh wait, that was actually a few weeks back. Well, there’s always Spring Breakers, the filmic equivalent. Leave it to Alabama to get to the party a little later than everyone else, but hey, we made it there at least. In many ways, the movie, which finally opened here in Birmingham this past weekend, is what happens when the party never stops. I suppose it makes a warped kind of sense.

James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashely Benson star in "Spring Breakers," a film which explores the possbility of spring break vacation gone horribly awry. MCT Campus

James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashely Benson star in “Spring Breakers,” a film which explores the possbility of spring break vacation gone horribly awry. MCT Campus

If you’ve never been on Spring Break in a coastal beach-based city, such as Florida’s Panama City Beach or Fort Lauderdale, Spring Breakers captures that feeling perfectly. In many ways, it gets right what last year’s Project X didn’t. That latter film was going for a “you are there” feeling and tried to attain it by shooting it in a “live” documentary-style.

Here’s the thing, though. Capturing the real-life chaos in its entirety is impossible. You really do have to actually be there to truly know what a off-the-chain party is like. What Spring Breakers gets right is the decision to combine real live footage with staged footage shot under the director’s terms. The blending of the two not only makes it feel more real, but surreal, as it was.

It’s remarkable, for instance, how well it replicates the feeling of having had a bit too much of anything, really. One never knows where a party will lead, after all. Sometimes things go awry—horribly awry. That’s exactly what happens here after a fashion.

You’ll probably know within the first five minutes whether this is going to be your red Solo cup of drink or not when the film tosses you headfirst into the sprawl. Subtlety, thy name is not writer/director Harmony Korine.

Of course, this is the guy who wrote the still-riveting Kids, before plunging head-on into a career that can charitably be called eccentric. Films like Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy are more like mood pieces than actual films, which is why he’s likely done so many short films, as the art form lends itself better to such things than a traditional-length narrative film. With Spring Breakers, Korine finally has the material he needed to sustain an entire film, and it’s his best work to date by far.

Somewhat promoted as “Disney Girls Gone Wild,” the film is actually much more than that. First, we see the party in full roar, and we realize that what we’re seeing is that feeling of no-holds-barred release that students feel when that much-needed break comes their way in the midst of their studies. What could be worse than to be denied that?

This is exactly the point of the main protagonists, who are determined to do literally anything to achieve their Spring Break dreams. So, naturally, they decide to hold up a restaurant to finance it.

Actually, to be fair, two of the girls- Candy (Vanessa Hudgens, a long way from High School Musical) and Brit (Ashley Benson, not so far removed from Pretty Little Liars)- hold up the eatery, while another, Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director’s wife) serves as the look-out/getaway driver.

James Franco plays a crime lord who bails out a group of spring break vacationers in return for a few favors. IMDB.com

James Franco plays a crime lord who bails out a group of spring break vacationers in return for a few favors. IMDB.com

Meanwhile, devout Christian good girl Faith (Selena Gomez, Disney girl #2, surprisingly well-cast) is back on campus unawares, her Spring Break dreams thought to be dashed by lack of funding. The rest of the gang show up, ill-begotten funds in hand and it’s party time. Off they all go to the beach, and massive good times ensue.

The things slowly begin to go awry. The girls get busted at a party for drug use and end up getting arrested, clad only in their skimpy little bikinis, with no money to speak of. Honestly, is there a sadder sight than a bunch of hung-over hotties scantily clad behind bars? Okay, maybe if you’re a lesbian in a women’s prison movie, it would be awesome, but I am not, so I felt for the poor girls. No one wants to see the Disney girls incarcerated. Well, maybe Lohan, but sweet-hearted Gomez? Say it ain’t so.

Enter rapper/dealer/wanna-be gangster Alien (James Franco, on a roll artistically after “Oz”), who bails them out and things subsequently go from bad to worse as the girls get inducted into the thug lifestyle. Gomez, bless her heart, is enough of a God-fearing girl to know to get while the getting’s good, but the rest stay and things almost immediately start to go south quick.

I won’t ruin it by saying any more, but what I will say is that this is one well put-together movie. It finds the beauty in the vulgar, the darkness in the light. The photography is gorgeous, ranging from the aforementioned sunshine-splashed revelry to the somehow sinister bright neon tones of the final scenes as the girls descend into the bleakest scenarios imaginable.

Yes, some of it is a bit hard to swallow at times, especially the ending, but the whole thing is so brilliantly-staged, from the first-rate score and soundtrack to the as-it-happens-live feel of the party you never quite realize is headed in the wrong direction until it does. I can’t quite recall a film that pulled this off so well since either Boogie Nights or Natural Born Killers, two films which explore similarly-deranged territory.

I’ll admit not everyone will care for this- it’s loud, brash, often-seedy and indulgently trashy and leering in its writing and direction. (Wait until you see the scene with Benson and Hudgens in Alien’s bedroom- it’s actually much more disturbing than the much-discussed swimming pool three-way later on in the film.) But it’s also kind of genius.

As a longtime veteran of many a lost week at the beach over the years, I can tell you, Spring Breakers gets a lot of it right, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Catch it while you can, because in this economy, good times are getting harder to come by, and this is a whole lot cheaper than springing for a beach vacay- and a lot safer, if this film is any indication.

Mark Trammell
Staff Writer

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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