The advertising around Spring Breakershas consisted of promising audiences former Disney stars gone bad and James Franco delivering a chameleon-eqsue performance. The film certainly delivers on those two promises, but it will still have plenty of trouble connecting with mainstream audiences. The film (which feels like Drive meets Girls Gone Wild) is sure to lure in teens and tweens, but what the advertising for this film has hidden from the audience is a pretty damning commentary of the generation the film is geared towards. So despite an inevitable backlash against the film from audiences, this film succeeds completely creatively as it combines a well constructed commentary on present day culture with exciting visuals and a career best performance from James Franco.
Spring Breakers follows three college students (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine), who rob a local fast food joint in order to pay for their spring break trip to the Florida coast. After convincing their more reluctant friend (Selena Gomez) to come along, they end up arrested after a few days of excessive partying. After fearing that their parents might find out about their predicament, they are surprisingly bailed out by a gangster-turned-rapper (James Franco), who shows them just how “fun” a gangster’s life can be. The film is directed and written by Harmony Korine.
Harmony Korine has made a career out of edgy independent films, but this film is a strong introduction to his work (this is the first time I have seen any of his work). Korine’s work here is visually slick. Colorful, choppily-edited and containing many enduring images and lines, Korine’s style certainly is original. Even if you think the film is unpleasant, it is hard to look away. However, what really takes Korine’s direction of the film over-the-top is his ability to mix in social commentary into the film. At first glance, Korine’s script seems extremely barren, but underneath the surface is a compelling deconstruction of this current generation that has grown up on reality TV shows and been given trophies for even finishing in last place. In many cases the inclusion of social commentary into a film can sink it with its bluntness, but Korine never lets that happen and utilizes it extremely proficiently.
The real highlight of the film, though, is James Franco. The film instantly improves when he appears about halfway through the film. The performance is such a departure for Franco as he completely loses himself in a character that has distorted himself (even physically) in order to achieve his interpretation of the American dream. While no one is in the same range of Franco, the four female leads at least don’t weaken the film. Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson are fine but there is not much to differentiate the two from one another. As a character more central to the film’s plot, Selena Gomez could have become annoying but the film finds the right amount of screen-time to give her. The best of the four female leads is Rachel Korine. It helps that she has the best-written character of the four, but Korine also brings a lot of personality to the role.
While it’s definitely not for everyone, those that can see through the naked bodies and kegs of Spring Breakers will find a film with a dark and well-crafted message.