out of Five
Running time: 94
Stylishly directed and darkly funny, Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers is a weird, day-glo fusion of trashy exploitation thriller and arthouse pretension, enlivened by game performances from a trio of former squeaky-clean TV stars and a deliriously brilliant turn from James Franco.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Harmony Korine (Gummo), Spring Breakers stars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine (the director's wife) as Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty, four broke university students who decide to rob a restaurant in order to fund a debauched Spring Break vacation in Florida. Religious student Faith isn't actually present for the robbery, but she happily joins in the boozy, bikini-clad beach-side shenanigans, though things take an unsavoury turn for her when the girls land in jail after a police raid and they get bailed out by sleazy, corn-rowed, gangster-slash-rapper Alien (James Franco), who attempts to recruit them into helping him take down his dangerous rival, Archie (Gucci Mane).
Korine's biggest coup is his calculated casting of former squeaky-clean Disney Princesses Gomez and Hudgens; their presence automatically guarantees media attention, even if Gomez, at least, is actually allowed to maintain her goodie-goodie image in the film. That said, all four girls deliver solid and extremely game performances (they spend almost the entire film in bikinis), though they are somewhat overshadowed in the acting stakes by James Franco, who's riotously entertaining as Alien.
On the surface, the film looks and feels like a trashy exploitation thriller (there's plenty of nudity, much of it provided by willing volunteers, since the film was shot amidst actual Spring Break action), but the second half of the film reveals its arthouse pretensions; the plot, such as it is, slows to a crawl, eventually getting lost in a dreamlike haze of looping dialogue, swirling camerawork and a mess of trippy imagery, heightened by Benoît Debie's day-glo cinematography (Korine apparently said he wanted the film to look like they'd used Skittles for filters) and a note-perfect soundtrack by Skillex and Cliff Martinez.
Though it flirts with the idea of actually having something to say about youth culture (e.g. Brit advising the girls to ‘Pretend it's a video game’ when they pull off the robbery), Spring Breakers is both decidedly tongue-in-cheek and darkly funny, all of which becomes glaringly obvious by the time the film reaches its wonderful key scene, a poolside piano-based rendition of a Britney ballad, which is then intercut with further illicit activity. This hilarious and brilliantly conceived sequence effectively serves as the climax, because the film doesn't really know where to go after that, though it scarcely matters, as the memory of that scene alone will keep you grinning for days.
Spring Breakers is trashy, ridiculous and pretentious in equal measure but it's also enormously entertaining, thanks to stylish, day-glo direction, a killer soundtrack and superb performances from Franco and co.