It came as quite a shock to discover that Spring Breakers is the first Harmony Korine film I’ve ever seen. I’ve been aware of the man’s work since way back when Larry Clark’s Kids was unleashed upon the world, and I have vivid memories of Gummo coming to cinemas, as well as everything the former skater has produced since. I’ve just never gotten around to watching one until now.
The film follows four bored college girls looking to do something different for spring break. They resolve to rob a restaurant and head down to the Florida beaches where the rest of America’s university population is flashing their boobs and getting wasted. But after the police bust a particularly rowdy party, the four girls find themselves behind bars. That’s when drug dealer Alien (James Franco) spies them and decides on a whim to bail them out.
From there the film takes a darker turn. The girls get their knight in shining armour – or sparkling teeth grillage to be more accurate – and Alien indulges their thirst for power and hedonism, without getting all touchy feely. The girls warm to him and a curious, emotionally dependent four way develops, especially after churchy Faith (Selena Gomez) quits and heads home.
Spring Breakers isn’t the raucous, horny fratboy comedy that some might have expected, but it isn’t anything particularly high brow or intellectual either, despite its arthouse creds and edgy visual style. The film is on its surface quite unlike anything of this nature we may have seen before, but underneath it’s the same misanthropic angst-ridden nihilistic look at youth on which Korine made his name.
There is fun to be had along the way, mostly by watching actors like Franco, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson discard their regular personas for something self-consciously but effectively wilder. Spring Breakers doesn’t have too much to say at the end of the day, but is pitched in a strange space where few other “youth” films have chosen to congregate, save for Clark and Korine’s earlier works.
The film’s sundrenched, neon-infused aesthetic and thumping soundtrack do a good job of keeping us engaged, and the central image of bikini-clad, balaclava sporting beach babes brandishing machine guns from their speedboat should rank highly as one of the year’s most enduring cinematic sights. But it is still something of a struggle to care about such shallow, spoilt characters, as they play out their personal little revolutions.