PG Cooper: Spring Breakers Review

Posted: April 8, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

spring-breakers-poster-james-franco

Spring Breakers is a film I’ve been curious of for sometime. The marketing showed the type of debauchery that a lot of teens and college students revel in and at first glance it might seem like a film that audience might flock to, not unlike Project X. But the trailers also showed a darker undercurrent and I suspected there was a lot more going on than a typical party movie. Sure enough, upon release the obvious audience was turned off by the film, but a lot of critics seemed to enjoy Spring Breakers. The disconnect is understandable; Spring Breakers is a weird film driven more by mood and ideas than plot or characters. For a lot of people, particularly audiences expecting a conventional film, this will be a deal breaker. It wasn’t for me.

Spring Breakers follows four college students living in what they see as a boring community with little to do. The four are Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine). The girls find solitude in the upcoming spring break trip to Florida, but when the time comes they discover they don’t have nearly enough money. In their desperation, Candy and Brit rob a restaurant which then provides the funds they need. The four set off for their spring break adventure but after a few days are arrested. Unable to pay their bail, the four see themselves facing prison time, that is until gangster and part time rapper Alien (James Franco) bails them out. The four then find themselves experiencing a spring break they never expected.

The first thing I want to address is the debate as to whether this film endorses the debauchery it depicts. I’m actually a little shocked that this is being debated in so many circles when it seems pretty clear to me the film does not. Spring Breakers does not paint its main characters as sympathetic; they’re complete morons and some of them are downright dangerous. The consequences of their partying are also shown explicitly and a major part of the film is how these girls’ trip to heaven became a spiral into hell. Granted, there are segments of the film which depict the antics of “spring breakers” as being fun and exciting, but they serve a purpose. In many ways, said scenes represent the allure of spring break to our protagonists and the fun atmosphere creates a juxtaposition for when things come crashing down on the characters. The whole debate reminds me of people who say Scarface (a film intentionally referenced by Spring Breakers) is a film that celebrates and glorifies gangster culture when the film’s end message couldn’t be more opposite.

So while the film may not endorse the actions of the “spring breakers”, does it use their debauchery as a means of saying something bigger? In my opinion yes it does. The film is definitely making a statement about the culture it depicts, though I may not be equipped to speak about the specifics after only one viewing. But there are certain things that jump out at me. It seems the most prominent theme is how young suburbanites often view life from a detached point of view. The main characters look at spring break as an escape from their lives where they’re free to do what the please in a consequence free environment, something which I’m sure a lot of similar people believe. These characters take that to its extreme by showing them engaging in violent acts without thinking about them as being serious. A telling montage cuts between the protagonists’ wreaking havoc with automatic weapons and the group singing and dancing to the Britney Spears’ song “Everytime”. There is no disconnect; to these girls both reveling in Britney Spears and causing pain to others is the same type of fun and games. This speaks to a culture of young middle-upper class people who live in a bubble where they are often unaffected by consequence. The film also visually links sex and violence constantly which I saw as a statement to how the two are so often put in the same category in this day and age.

Of course when of the strengths of Harmony Korine’s direction is that he doesn’t judge. He leaves that to the audience so others may look at the “spring breakers” more optimistically than I did. Korine is a director I’ve heard of but never actually seen any of his works until now. I’m definitely curious now because he’s clearly a talented and interesting filmmaker. A combination of voice over from various characters, flashbacks, flashforwards, music, and cinematography give the audience a trance like feel. I’ve read theories that say Korine’s goal was to give the audience the feeling of being “high” in a sense. He may have been, but what jumped out to me even more was the feeling of fantasy. To these characters, spring break is a dream and the fantastical way the film feels lends itself to that ideal. It also makes the moments where the dream collapses on top of the protagonists that much more effective. Two elements of the film I want to specifically single out are the music and cinematography. The score was composed by Skrillex and Cliff Martinez and it works very well. In addition, other Skrillex songs are used. I’m not really a fan of the guy, but his music is highly appropriate for this type of film and the more subtle score he and Martinez created goes well with the more “in-your-face” pre-existing music. I also admired the cinematography which I find instrumental in creating the aforementioned trance-like feel. With all that said, I don’t think Korine’s direction is perfect. I think he is prone to excess in certain areas, particularly the editing and voice over. Still, I can’t help but enjoy the Terrence Mallick-esque approach to a movie about spring break.

I have yet to bring up the lead characters and that’s because this is where the film flounders the most. Not that the leading ladies are bad, but their characters are painted in such broad strokes they aren’t entirely believable. There are only three things separating the four, Faith is the moral one (relatively speaking), Cotty is the most sexual, and Brit and Candy are violent. I’m glad there’s at least some distinguishing features, but there isn’t enough for characters we spend the entire film with. This also hinders the film’s messages because a big part of their success is based on the arcs of the protagonists, but there’s so little there to begin with. On the plus side, James Franco is awesome as Alien. Franco throws himself into the role and becomes almost unrecognizable, being a mix of funny, scary, and pathetic. What I admired most about Franco’s work is that he takes a character who is very big, but gives him a certain amount of depth. One gets the impression as the film progresses that Alien maybe isn’t the badass gangster he proclaims to be. He seems to be overwhelmed by the events surrounding him more so than the spring breakers. Perhaps because he realizes his criminal activities are still a business while they’re still living in a fantasy.

Spring Breakers has some fundamental flaws, but there are also some impressive strengths. The direction, while flawed, is undeniably interesting and in my opinion highly effective. The cinematography and music are great, James Franco gives his strongest performance since 127 Hours, and the themes and messages are relevant. If nothing else, Spring Breakers is the most unique film I’ve seen in a theater so far this year and will likely stay that way until year’s end. It’s not a film for everyone, but I’d recommend it to the open minded filmgoer. It may just speak to you like it did me, perhaps more so.

B+

Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review PG. Makes you think about the generation we’re in, even if it doesn’t go all the way with it’s story. Still, worth a watch for what it says alone.

  2. Chris says:

    Perv

  3. r361n4 says:

    I really want to give this one a try, but I’ll probably have to wait until it comes out on DVD what with how much I spend on movies in theaters, lol. Great review

  4. Spring Breaaaaak. Spring Breaaaaaaak…

    I had a lot of fun with this one, but it definitely does have flaws. Franco’s character alone is worth recommending it though :)

  5. Mr Rumsey says:

    I still haven’t seen this and I’m starting to think that I really should! Great review :D

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s