Harmony Korine has been polarising audiences from the time they were first introduced to his dark vision of American teenagers in his script for director Larry Clark’s acclaimed Kids (1995) . His latest offering Spring Breakers, a satirical mash-up of a ‘kids gone wild on spring break’ comedy and an urban gangsta crime drama, will continue that polarisation, despite having his most conventional narrative yet, but may win him a few converts who are drawn in by the high profile leads.
Bored college students Candy, Brit and Cotty (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) decide to travel to Florida for some traditional U.S. spring break debauchery and mayhem, and convince their much straighter Christian friend Faith (Selena Gomez), to accompany them. When they realise that they don’t have enough money for the trip, they rob a local restaurant, and with their coffers filled, hop on a bus and head to St Petersburg. Their non-stop partying comes to an end when they’re arrested at a drug fuelled, out of control bash in a motel room, and they face a couple of days in lock up until they’re rescued by dope dealing white rapper Alien (James Franco), who pays their bail and takes them under his wing. Faith is soon terrified of the gangsta company Alien keeps and begs her friends to go home with her, as she’s certain something bad is inevitable if they don’t get away from him.
As an exercise in breaking away from clean-cut child stardom, Hudgens and Gomez (and to a lesser extent Benson) picked an appropriate vehicle, filled as it is with violence, profanity, nudity, relatively explicit sex, drugs and an ocean of alcohol. Hudgens’ and Benson’s Candy and Brit are VERY bad girls, and shy away from almost nothing in their desire to be as unhinged as possible. Gomez hedges her bets somewhat here, as it is never in any doubt that Faith is the good girl led astray by ringleaders Candy and Brit; she doesn’t participate in the robbery that sets the whole trip in motion, and is never shown acting promiscuously or taking drugs (we are introduced to Faith at a Christian teens meeting at her church).
Franco’s very black white dude Alien is yet another of his expectation defying role choices, and although Alien verges on caricature, Franco invests him with enough tenderness and goofy charm that we can’t help but like him, despite the fact that he is clearly dangerous and more than a bit deranged.
The first ten or so minutes of the film is a montage of drunken buffoonery and topless nymphettes on Florida beaches, and as Korine is nearly 40 years old, one wonders at first whether he’s leering or satirising the infamous ‘Girls Gone Wild’ series of videos which were popular for a time in the U.S.(his younger wife is one of the leads). As the film progresses however, with our heroines carrying out a violently nasty robbery to fund their vacation, it becomes clear that his intentions can’t be anything but satiric, as at first the hedonism, and then the violence, escalate to absurd levels, removing the action from the realm of reality.
Does Spring Breakers represent a concerted move by Korine towards more commercial film-making, with its linear plot and recognisable genres in play? One thing is for certain, and that is that this meeting in the middle between young stars eager to gain edgy credibility and an ageing enfant terrible working with young stars with substantial followings almost guarantees Korine the biggest audience of his career to date.