“Sperrring brayke . . . spering brayke for-evah!”
Drawling these incantory lines with a Southern accent that’s as thick and baroque as any this side of Matthew McConaughey’s, James Franco neatly sums up the meaning of Harmony Korine’s hallucinatory skin show/art object, Spring Breakers.
That is to say, the “meaning” is strictly in the repeated images of beautiful young people caught in the throes of some extreme behavior. The “movie” is scene after scene of the barely legal crowd drinking, dancing, having sex—simulated and/or actual—praying, or committing horrible acts of violence against the innocent and guilty alike.
There’s a plot, but if narrative were the most important thing to the director, then Spring Breakers would have been over in half an hour. (As it is, it’s only an hour and a half long.) Four students at a dreary cinder-block college have been saving up to go to Florida for spring break. Faith (ex-Disney Channel star Selena Gomez) is a “good” girl. Cotty (Rachel Korine) has more flexible morals, but Candy (ex-Disney Channel star Vanessa Hudgens) and Brit (Pretty Little Liar Ashley Benson) are just plain trouble. How much trouble? They rob a family restaurant with startling ferocity to finance the quartet’s vacation. Florida is a paradise at first, but after a brief sojourn in jail, things go from bad to worse with the arrival of gangster-rapper Alien (Franco, looking half-robot with his metallic smile). More sex and violence follow.
It’s an art film masquerading as exploitation. Images, acts and dialogue are repeated over and over (and over). The colors are ripe to the point of rottenness. It’s the old trick of making you look at something—in this case, T & A, outrageous behavior—to the point that what you’re looking at changes. Whether it’s three girls in pink unicorn ski masks and bikinis dancing a ballet with automatic weapons, or Franco jumping up and down on his bed shouting “this is my sheee-it” in crazed glee, Korine has created something that lingers like a bad dream.
That’s not the only sleight of hand Korine pulls here. The most obvious trick, of course, is casting three stars of tweener TV in an R-rated movie and then telling the kids they shouldn’t watch. That’s an old-school exploitation move that may make Spring Breakers a gateway drug to art cinema.
We can only hope.