In the opening credits of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, the title credits’ font are made from flickering neon shapes of vacation insignia: leaping Lisa Frank dolphins, beach balls, flip flops. They’re accompanied by the tranquil sounds of seagulls, laughter and lapping Gulf of Mexico waves. Watching it is like closing your eyes on a greasy lounge chair, covering your eyes with a towel as red and blue images flicker across your retina’s memory.
More than anything, these letters reminded me of the false promise of Fun, Fun, Fun promised me by St. Petersburg, Florida, my new adoptive hometown from the mid-90’s onward. We moved in July; I felt like I had woken up in hell.
So, it was easy to relate to the plight of Selena Gomez’s Faith, a teenager toggling between the Girls Gone Wild ethos of her childhood coterie and the “Jesus Is My Boyfriend” finger-guns shtick of Southern youth ministry. I say Southern because there’s a difference. The Spring Breaker’s audience cackled with laughter at the finger-guns cool-guy youth pastor’s ridiculous speeches to Faith’s group of true believers, but I felt like Korine held back on that front. Had he given us more background on this aspect of Faith’s life, it could have competed with the slow motion blood spattering that creates such a visceral reaction later on.
Faith only appears in the first two thirds of the film, too wholesome to realistically be drawn into the spiraling, demented ending, but she is Korine’s straw man. What happens when good girls go bad?
Faith’s friends: Candy (played by fellow Disney tv princess Vanessa Hudgens – Korine told Rolling Stone he got the idea to cast Gomez and Hudgens while watching Wizards of Waverly Place with his toddler daughter, Lefty), Brit (played by Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine, Harmony’s wife) are already bad. They draw dicks in the middle of lectures, get high before class, and they fuck professors. They’re not much more debauched than the average bad-kid behavior taking place across college campuses right now.
But with the advent of spring break, they go from zero to sixty, stealing a professor’s car, robbing a family restaurant with a toy gun and a real sledgehammer, and setting the stolen vehicle on fire. With their newly acquired wealth, the quartet heads “to Florida,” presumably from a state school just above the panhandle. (The film was shot entirely on my college campus in Sarasota, Florida and on location in my aforementioned hometown). St. Petersburg holds the allure of release, boys, booze and better things. All of this is exemplified in the first scene, just a dreamy montage of bare breasts and unlimited alcohol set to Skrillex. I don’t think Korine was implying this is typical, but instead this is how we imagine “spring break,” even years after we’re past undergrad. I can tell you the oceanside keg stands and nudity are not real but the vomiting and arrests and general apocalyptic atmosphere is 100% accurate.
“This is paradise,” cry Faith and company, “I never want to go home.” And in that way vacation spots present reasons for you to never leave, the girls are arrested and then bailed out James Franco’s Alien, a mid-level dealer with a penchant for songwriting. The role might just be the best of his career.
If there was ever anyone living in the “moment,” it is Franco’s Alien, a man incapable of seeing past the next day’s haul. Like patients in an asylum given origami paper to focus their attention on a soothing task, Alien and his “employees,” the silent, gum-licking humanoids played by the just-as-terrifying-in-real-life ATL Twins, dismantle monogrammed bricks of marijuana into dime bags.
“Big booties, y’all,” cajoles Alien, alongside real-life St. Pete rapper Dangeruss, the basis of Franco’s character (at least, according to everyone except Riff Raff). “That’s what life is about!”
Under his wing, the girls slip deeper into the “spring break forever” mentality that can only be sustained by a conscious break with reality and a steady stream of increasingly violent activity. The hyper-saturated fantasy Korine weaves is decadent but trashy, like a strawberry swirl margarita made with Patron Silver. Dive in, the water’s fine. The semi-automatic weapons and blurred sexual boundaries are a small price to pay for a complete cinematic escape.
I have a feeling this film will go down in true cult film history, and not in the way Korine’s previous films have made a place in the collective consciousness. A viewer might not have seen all of Gummo, but they’re probably aware of the cat-drowning scene. Franco’s monologue about his untold riches as a self-made man, or the gratuitous, but humorous violence scored to Britney Spears’s breakup ballad “Everytime” will stay with you long after you’ve left the theater, the way a shoreline plays across the mind’s eyes long after you’ve shut your eyes.
Spring break forever, bitches.