Being a fan of bizarre director Harmony Korine, a friend of mine who went to a pre-screening of “Spring Breakers” with me had lots to say about the final product, but nevertheless concluded that he was happy he didn’t have to analyze it like I did. He was happy he could watch it for what it was, know why he liked or didn’t like it, but never have to fully explain it. Because, frankly, how do you explain a movie like this? “Spring Breakers” is nutty, surreal and just plain weird and, if I’m being honest, I’m not quite sure what I think of it. As a product that breaks the cinematic norm, I’m fascinated by and appreciate it, but a value of its cinematic worth is hard to assess. What does this movie have to say? Sadly, I’m not sure it says much of anything.
The story begins innocently enough. Spring break is approaching and a group of college friends want to live it up in Florida. There’s the aptly named Faith (Selena Gomez), the religious one, and then the other three, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine), who, personality-wise at least, are indistinguishable from each other. They’re the crazy ones and when they realize they don’t have enough money for their trip, they decide to rob a local chicken shack. Once down there, they find themselves in a bit of trouble, only to be rescued by a rapper/drug and arms dealer/self-proclaimed being from another planet named (nicknamed?) Alien (James Franco).
And from there, the movie gets so wild, I don’t know what to make of it. If Rotten Tomatoes is to be believed, early reviews have noted the “stinging social commentary” the movie presents, though what that commentary is isn’t actually specified. Some may claim it’s about the degradation of American youth or the destructiveness of their reckless behavior, but it’s an argument that’s hard to swallow. The film is so absurd at times, so ridiculously over-the-top (particularly during its conclusion), that it’s hard to take seriously. It’s not so much an analysis of rebellious youth culture as a gross exaggeration. At times, the movie even appears to be analyzing the idea of faith by surrounding the peacefulness and kindness of religion when surrounded and confronted by evildoers. Can it really hold strong and protect us in dangerous and unpleasant situations? But then the movie turns its back on the idea, content to follow its unusual narrative path.
When “Spring Breakers” ends, it’s hard not to ask: what was the point of that? With all the gratuitous nudity and graphic violence, much of which is superfluous to the actual story, perhaps the argument can be made that the movie is pointing the camera back at our own perversions. The four girls, all of whom look barely legal, are almost never in anything but bikinis. Even after they’ve been arrested, thrown in jail and appear in court in front of a judge, the bikinis remain, which is itself a bit ridiculous. Perhaps it’s an experiment to see how many of us are willing to dish out money to satisfy our own lustful, shameful urges. With a director like Harmony Korine, it’s certainly a possibility, but such ideas are speculative at best.
Nevertheless, “Spring Breakers” remains oddly fascinating. Although it’s hard to tell what the movie is going for, particularly in its tone, where it seems to switch from drama to extremely dark comedy in the blink of an eye, it remains watchable, particularly for film aficionados. Anyone else, those who are more used to traditional Hollywood fare, should steer clear. This movie isn’t for them, but rather the ones who don’t mind a movie wandering all over the place, both thematically and narratively. It’s for those who don’t mind a bit of pretentiousness in their directors because the places they take them are so memorable, they don’t mind putting up with some ego stroking. But while I was fascinated by it, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. It was too messy of a story and it lacked a focus that is needed to really pull in a viewer. That’s why, for the first time ever, I’m neither recommending it nor dissuading you to see it. I’ll let you make your own choice. “Spring Breakers” certainly has an audience, particularly those familiar with Harmony Korine’s work, and you know who you are.