BY MICHELLE MEDFORD AND EMILY GAGNE
The Cinefilles have been kind of obsessed with Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine’s (Gummo) latest controversial drama, since last fall, when they saw the candy-coloured coming-of-age crime flick at TIFF ’12. The film has since blown up, buzz-wise, mostly due to its envelope-pushing plot (four girls go gun, sex and drug crazy during one hell of an arresting Florida spring break) and cast (Selena Gomez in her first R-rated movie; James Franco in corn rows!). Although both those aspects are fascinating in their own right, there’s so much more to this flick than you might expect from that description and any superficial, bikini-filled previews you’ve seen. It is, quite simply, a neon-streaked broken dreamland of a movie, with surprising depth and a very unique, very hypnotic style.
THE FRANCO FACTOR
E: I’m going to be Franco with you right now: this movie may mark James Franco’s most James Franco performance to date. Playing part-time rapper and drug dealer Alien, he is at the top of his over the top, self-deprecating game. It helps that he’s dressed in out-of-this-world gangsta wannabe gear (grills, chains,the works) and asked to speak some truly unforgettable lines (one scene has him repeating “Look at my shit!” over and over, while displaying various important items, like dark tanning oil and Calvin Klein Escape cologne). But his straight-faced delivery and committed, strangely confident swagger is really what makes Alien fly as a character, and he’s able to sell both the extremely tense scenes (there’s one moment between him and Gomez that’s hella cringe-worthy) and extremely hilarious ones (wait until you hear him sing “Everytime” by Britney Spears).
In a way, I suppose Alien and Franco are one in the same. Alien takes his life and his “shit” dead seriously, while you know Franco approached this part, as ridiculous as it seems, with complete sincerity.
M: This year is turning out to be a very good year for James Franco and his unforgettable characters. He was perfect as Oz and he’s parts hilarious, creepy and bizarre as Alien. Plus, we all know we’ll love him in This is the End alongside his bros and who isn’t curious to see him as a young Hugh Hefner in Lovelace?
Franco as Alien is a ridiculous and amusing thought in itself. He’s a part gangster, part drug dealer, with cornrows and grills, who raps on the side and thinks ever-so-highly of himself and his “shit” (see aforementioned “shit” above). But like Emily said, he’s also actually a dangerous guy involved in some heavy crime. It makes for some really great juxtaposition, like when he’s jumping on the bed with an insane grin on his face, before he breaks some guy’s face with the butt of his gun. One second you’re laughing, the next you’re uncomfortable. But the best quote of all: “Why y’all acting suspicious?” as if a strange, creepy man you don’t know paying to bail you and your friends out of jail and asking you to get into his car is completely normal.
M: Everyone wants to talk about Selena Gomez and the fact that she’s in a movie about girls getting wild and rowdy on spring break. The fact that she’s in this movie probably lends to more discussion than her actual performance, a performance which is fine but nothing worth talking about. Actually, all of the girls in this movie did a good job but nothing special, except for Vanessa Hudgens, but not in a good way. She just seemed to way over-acting throughout the entire movie that it distracted from the believability of her character at times.
E: I’m totally with Michelle on Hudgens. The girl was hamming it up the whole time, perhaps because she’s always imagined herself as a version of her character, the overtly slutty Candy. There’s always been a slightly skanky undertone to her performances, even her turns in the High School Musical series, where she was supposed to be playing a goody two-shoes athletic type. And since Spring Breakers got its wide release, she’s released a strange, pervy spring break-themed single, “$$$ex.”
On the other hand, I actually think there was a standout performance amongst the other girls and it came from Pretty Little Liars star Benson. Perhaps I’m biased, being a PLL fan, but I thought she really stepped outside her comfort zone here, playing more than just a pretty, but dense teen girl. Yes, her character, Brit, does some hella dumb things, but she’s doing it all with a bigger, albeit whacked, purpose. And you can see that in Benson’s mesmerizing, teasing stares.
M: This movie is really dark. I’ve read a few reviews and I think it’s a lot darker than most seem to think (and Harmony Korine himself). Intentional or not, this movie provokes a lot of discussion. On the surface, it’s about girls who go on spring break and end up in a much more dangerous place than they expected to be, made even worse by the fact that some of them even feel like they belong there. Beyond that, it’s also about the destruction and destructibility of youth, corrupt ambitions and harmful self-indulgence. It’s so much more than a movie about stupid girls doing stupid things. These are characters who aren’t just out to party but rather who find more of a thrill in the toxification of their lives (I’m not just talking substances) and measure their worth in terms of the worse they can get away with.
E: With all of the exposed boobs and butts, it’s easy to dismiss this film as strictly highly exploitative and misogynist. But as much as Spring Breakers is a brutal, intrusive coming-of-age tale, it is also warped love story, following the climax and destruction of long-running female friendships. We watch these girls talk frankly to each other about their lives and where they want to see them go, not only as individuals but as a united front against the world, which they see as vehemently against them and their need to break out as young, assertive young women. And by the end of the film, each girl steps up and seizes their own life in their own, individualistic way. Not all of their selected paths lead them down the same road, and as a result, the strength of their since-grade-school bond is, sadly, smashed to smithereens.
THE CINEMATOGRAPHY AND DIRECTION
E: Even if you can’t get down with the plot or performances for whatever reason, there’s no denying the provocative beauty of Korine’s purposefully intrusive, hyper-saturated shooting style. All the backdrops, costumes and lighting choices are incredibly bright, perfectly juxtaposing with the pitch darkness of the storylines. One particularly grimy gorgeous scene involves a dock littered with neon pink lights and two girls running off into the darkened distance in barely-there yellow bikinis. It might sound unremarkable on paper, but you won’t be able to forget it when you leave the theatre.
What’s also fascinating is Korine’s noted choice to invade the personal space of the actors with his lens. We get far too up close and personal with the girls and their not-quite-covered bodies at many points. Because the focus stays there, you are forced to leer at these ladies, as Alien and the other men who populate the movie are constantly doing. Korine obviously wants you to be disgusted with yourself and, trust me, you will be. But that’s a good thing, as we too often ignore how obviously exploitative film and TV can be of women. Plus, the dudes get their just desserts too, as Candy and Brit force Alien to fellate a weapon rather explicitly.
THE UNIQUE NARRATIVE
M: One of my favourite parts of this movie is the fragmented narrative. We get to see a lot of things before they happen, sometimes days before, sometimes seconds. We hear a lot of repeated phrases, making us unsure of when exactly they happened in the context of the story. Then there are the gunshots we hear throughout.
I’m sure on second viewing, there will be a lot more to catch. It creates a lack of clarity, which in a way reflects how the girls in the movie see the world. It also helps add to immediacy and dread of everything, when you start to hear and see things that are impending. It’s a very well-crafted storyline that helps create an even deeper and darker meaning to the film overall.
E: There is a ton of great modern dance music in this flick, including one truly scene-setting opening track from Skrillex and this dope original Alien beat. But honestly, the most important songs featured in this movie come from, to quote Alien, “an angel if there ever was one,” Britney Spears.
Of course, there’s the now infamous “Everytime” scene, which sees Franco singing the depressing BS tune at a white baby grand piano while Hudgens, Benson and Korine dance around him in light pink unicorn-adorned face masks and “DTF” sweatpants. But we also hear the girls sing “Hit Me Baby, One More Time” together in a parking lot at one point. Both selections fit their respective points in the movie perfectly too. “Hit Me Baby” makes its appearance early on in the film, when the girls still seem to be relatively carefree and only focused on surface stuff (boys and partying). Meanwhile, “Everytime” marks, the beginning of the girls’ swift fall down the rabbit hole. In that moment, you’ll find yourself asking, as we did with Britney when she released that single, whether they’ll ever be able to pull themselves back up.
M: The best songs in this movie are the ones that never actually made it to the soundtrack. The song don’t just fit the scenes they’re chosen for, but they’re also lyrically perfect. Take Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life.” A recurring theme throughout is the idea that they girls want to freeze-frame their lives and literally live in a moment forever. Then there’s Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” which sings about “turning to stone” and the lights “calling me home,” which again is about freezing things as they are, but also touches on destiny and the idea that the girls were always meant to end up where they did. They are some really great song selections throughout that require at least a second thought.
THE FINAL GRADES
E: If Calvin Klein Escape and shorts of every colour are Alien’s “shit,” Spring Breakers is mine, as it challenges my expectations of two of my favourite genres: girl-powered teen party films and crime dramas. It’s like if Heat, Where the Boys Are and Thelma and Louise decided to throw a joint self-aware Girls Gone Wild release party. I’m not sure if I was specifically invited, but I’m there. I’m SO there.
M: This movie was not what I was expecting at all, and that’s a really good thing. The idea of a movie about spring break sounds stupid and juvenile but going into this movie without watching a trailer made for a very satisfying surprise. I love a well-written, dark and artistic story with tons of underlying themes to analyse.