Spriiiing Breeeaaakkkk fo’ everrrrrr. Spring Breakers (2012) is one of those films that pans out pretty differently to how you anticipate it, whilst simultaneously being a pretty standard ‘alternative crime’ thriller. Four college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) really want to go to spring break in Florida, but being students, find it difficult to scrounge up the cash. They decide to rob a local restaurant in order to make their way to omg like the best party ever. Finding themselves in jail during their spring break festivities, they are bailed out by a charismatic drug dealer slash rapper (James Franco).
If you’ve seen any of Harmony Korine’s other works, such as Gummo (1997) and Trash Humpers (2009), then the structure and aesthetics of this won’t surprise you. Korine uses some of his favourite tactics to tell this story, which involves non-linear visuals and audio in order to create a story that at times overlaps itself. Spring Breakers is an accessible way to introduce yourself to Korine’s style of directing, especially if you don’t feel like putting yourself through Trash Humpers. I don’t have many good things to say about that one. The story is linear, but due to Korine’s love of foreshadowing through overlapping audio and visual cues, it has a semi-ambiguous ending. I felt that the story developed at a good pace and I wasn’t bored at all. The soundtrack is great and the visuals are amazing – but I’ll elaborate on that point later.
I will say that I was worried about the feminist implications for the film. For a female-driven story about ’empowerment’ and getting what you want, it sure is kind of shallow. You begin the film by seeing a lot of T&A, and a lot of drunk men exploiting drunk women. Then the four girls want money, and they get money in the quickest and easiest way possible; not necessarily empowering for women, since their interpretation of ‘power’ is a caricature of masculine violence, deep voices and all. The girls go to jail, and they rely on a male figure of authority to rescue them. And so it goes. For being a film about ‘female power’, the gaze on the four girls was 100% sexual, 100% of the time. They are wearing bikinis for the majority of the film, but come on. Are we really saying anything unique by equating female power with sex, yet again? I don’t think that Spring Breakers does a disservice to women all over the world (there are other films that earn that title), but there is something distinctly shallow about its portrayal and gaze of the girls that made me feel uneasy.
Selena Gomez is quite convincing as Faith, the most vulnerable and hesitant of the four. Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson are great as Candy and Brit, who you might call the instigators of the story – their rebellious natures and willingness to commit violent acts drive the central conflict of the film. Rachel Korine is forgettable as Cotty, but she doesn’t seem to have as much screen time as the others, so it’s not a big deal. As an ensemble, they work together well, and seem to have a lot of fun – but whether that’s acting, or a genuine love for the party scene, who knows. Although each of the four girls has a ‘persona’ to play, I didn’t feel that these were fully explored. We know that Faith is the churchy one, Candy and Brit are the rebels, and Cotty is the other rebel in the background. Beyond this, we don’t learn too much about them. They’re always “the girls”, rather than individual people, which I’m not a fan of.
Say what you like about James Franco, but he’s excellent in this. His natural ability to absorb the mannerisms of people are put to the test in Spring Breakers. Clearly based on filthy, talented rapper Riff Raff, Franco’s performance as rapper/criminal Alien is actually hilarious. The monologue in his house where he brags to the girls – “Look at all my shieett! I got rooms full of this shiiiiet!” – was so funny and had the whole room laughing. He’s clearly parodying something about rap culture, but at the same time his portrayal of the character is quite earnest. If he had stuck to the parody elements of the character, I would not have been impressed, and it would have come off as cartoonish and silly. Because he manages to balance both the character and the parody, his portrayal of Alien is one of my favourite things about this film.
I think one my favourite moments of this film was a montage scene set to Britney Spears’ song, ‘Everytime‘. I love a good montage. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s an excellent example of juxtaposing a gentle song with brutal violence for maximum effect, as opposed to the montage song matching the content. Korine is certainly not the first person to do this, but there was something about this montage that was special.
My other favourite thing about Spring Breakers, which may come as no surprise to some readers, is the aesthetics and cinematography. The film seems to have a consistently fluorescent colour palette, and there are some beautiful moments and visual effects. One moment where I was really impressed was toward the beginning of the film, where Benson and Hudgens’ characters are sitting in a lecture theatre at college. As the lecture slides change colours, the light shining on all the students’ faces does also, and this is very visually impressive. It also sets the scene of conformity and monotony that the girls are attempting to escape. The film’s use of light is innovative. The cinematographer on this one is Benoît Debie, who worked with Gaspar Noe on his films Irreversible (2002) and Enter the Void (2009); both films which had disturbing but totally unique visuals.
It might seem like I have a lot of praise for this film. It’s true, I do. But at the same time, even though there were elements of this film that I enjoyed, I can’t give it top marks. For a film supposedly about female power, it doesn’t really place much importance on the individual needs and identities of its female characters. The film is visually beautiful, has great music, and is engaging and fun (if you can say that, considering its violence). It’s a shame that a similar emphasis wasn’t put on the development of its characters, or on the overall message of the film.
Watch the trailer here.
I just thought it was a big pile of pretentious rubbish, full of unlikeable people. It was the kind of film that seemed to think it was being controversial and in your face, but really was just a bit crap!
Yeah, I think any of Harmony Korine’s films can be safely described as pretentious!
Nice write up. Been meaning to check this one out for a while, if just for Franco looking like a mentalist!
Thanks! 🙂 He sure is a massive mentalist in this one, so you have lots to look forward to!
I agree with everything you say.
And yet I weigh the merits and flaws differently. The flaws, in my opinion, are far greater than the strengths which makes this flick bad. Franco, Gomez and the cinematography notwithstanding.
I really think it was my love of film aesthetics and cinematography that influenced my weighing of the pros and cons on this one. What do you think is the worst thing about this film? I think it was its issues with women, but I’m interested to see what you reckon!
The worst? There are so many. 🙂
I wasn’t fond of the audio, but the nondescript characterization of each woman is probably the worst element. That and the over-sexulization you observed in your review.
Good review! I think I liked the movie more than you though 🙂 Favorite things: James Franco, the cinematography and the score!
Definitely three very impressive things about this film! 🙂
loved spring breakers. Harmony korine outdid himself.
He’s a pretty interesting guy. Have you seen much of his other films?
I have been banned from watching them in the house, I was lucky enough to get away with spring breakers, heehee, There is one tamer one that is quite a bit older that I am thinking about viewing.
It’s mister lonely the one I want to watch I am not allowed to watch Gummo or trash humpers.
loved spring breakers. Harmony korine outdid himself.
I was so unimpressed with Franco after the Oz prequel and all the first reviews about this film were so negative I never got around to watching this. But I think I’ll give it a chance after all – you have some wonderful points here, though I know oversexualising will bother me, too. Great review here, Anna!
Thanks Elina! He’s really good in this, so it’s definitely worth a watch. The film isn’t all bad but it does have a big problem with women!
Spring Breakers is a lot of fun and will definitely become a cult classic in time. The film benefits from a fantastic performance by James Franco, whom without, we would have had a much less interesting film. However, with a better script, it’s interesting to think how much better this film could have been.
Thanks! 🙂 I totally agree, despite its stunning visuals and great performance by Franco, it is let down by the script and poor character development. Definitely an interesting one to watch though!
I wasn’t bothered by all those…how do I put this? disrespectful to women scenes, because the film portrayed the kind of environment where these girls don’t mind it. Sure it’s wrong, but it wasn’t the subject of the film, I was mostly focused on 4 main girls. Franco was really good but the two last girls standing were the most impressive to me, I also liked the score in the movie.
Yeah, I didn’t have too many issues with the crazy sexy party environment stuff, because let’s face it, that’s what spring break is all about. My main beef is with the lack of characterisation of the four girls, and the awkward moment where I realised that a film supposedly about female empowerment was just as problematic as any other film. I was definitely impressed with the finale and the final girls as well though!
Good to hear your perspective on this. Based of what little I know, I had a different perception of what Spring Breakers is actually about. Your description of Franco’s character and performance, has me interested but the other aspects to this movie aren’t really up my alley. Great review.
Thanks! Yeah, it’s funny, I also had a completely different idea of what the film would be about before watching it. I would say that my expectations for the film were challenged in a disappointing way. It’s still not a bad film, but there are just elements of it that deserve some critique!
Nice review Anna. It’s not a great movie, but what it talks about and the finger it points is what really puts it over the edge, making it more than just a simple tale of teenage debauchery told in its grittiest style.
Thanks, totally agreed! It’s interesting how such a ‘regular’ concept can be totally transformed by the way in which it’s delivered. Thinking about re-watching this one and reflecting on it some more!
Great review of a very polarising movie.
Thanks Vinnie! 🙂
True I liked James Franco in this and the movie was aesthetically pleasing, but everything else didn’t live up to the hype. I did think it was funny though… my fave is when they are singing Britney Spears on the piano. 🙂
I loved that scene too! So unexpected. Franco was amazing in this.
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