When I finally got around to watching Spring Breakers (the first in a reasonably large number of films that I missed in the cinema, and am catching up on and reviewing), my expectations had been in flux for quite a while. In spite of fairly middle of the road ratings on Metacritic and sites of that ilk, I’d constantly seeing it topping lists of the best films of the first sixth months of the year once they’d begun floating around the blogosphere. I suppose, to be blunt, I can see why it’s topping such lists – it’s bitingly satirical, visually dizzying and quite unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time.
But I’ll be the first to admit that I was more than a little bit cynical, both in the lead up to the release of Spring Breakers, and until I’d begun watching. A great deal of the marketing focused on the whole ‘Disney girls gone bad’ kind of thing that was floating around the internet once images of Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in the film began circulating around the web (but more on them later). This, and a lot of the marketing for the film seemed to focus almost entirely on the superficial elements of its story, as well as making it look rather like a straightforward crime film, just with a scantily clad cast and a borderline unhinged (and brilliant, it must be said) James Franco. To set the record straight, Spring Breakers is neither superficial, nor straightforward. Lots of reviews of the film have called it a ‘fever dream,’ and while it may seem like I’m hopping onto some sort of bandwagon, there’s really no better way to describe it.
This idea of a fever dream is achieved by some exceptional below-the-line work, which is very much where Korine’s vision lives and dies. The film is frantically, almost jarringly edited, forcing you around in an aggressive haste, along with almost constantly moving cinematography and production design that captures perhaps the core duality of the film – something that is at once seemingly all-American, but at the same time grimy, and almost repulsive.
Spring Breakers is, on the surface, about a group of girls who rob a bank to pay for their spring break vacation. But that’s really not too important, given the initial robbery is scarcely seen, and if anything, is just a launching pad for the main meat of the film, it’s satire, it’s comments on the excess and apathy of the current generation, this constant yearning to be somewhere else, or just to be something for that matter. Early on, one of the characters talks about how they don’t want to be stuck here like everyone else, sick of being in the same classrooms with the same professors and the same students.
And so, they resolve to do something about it, and once they have, Spring Breakers descends into much more nightmarish territory, calling to mind the dark dreamscapes of David Lynch, but decorated with neon, sun, and a brutal attack on the American Dream. Sometimes though, Korine’s satire doesn’t always quite hit the mark, there are times when it lags a bit, but it’s almost faultless execution, with wonderful derectorial touches and dualities – scenes of excess over letters to one of the character’s grandmother (in which everything we hear from the letter is a lie), is nothing short of inspired.
Now, the casting for Spring Breakers seemed to be the thing that drew the most attention to it during promotion, as I’ve mentioned, the cast are, by and large stepping out of their comfort zones, and that’s putting it lightly. And while it might be almost considered stunt-casting, the actresses chosen are damn excellent, both in terms of their performances and the casting itself, with the previous, family friendly credits that some of the actresses have, coupling that with the material they tackle (with skill and a total lack of awkwardness) is the perfect way of showing the duality of the Dream that these girls are chasing.
However, as good as they are, it’s James Franco that steals the show as the excess driven, and mad as a hatter white rapper – Alien. Alien is the personification of the American Dream for these girls – living a dangerous life, and one littered with superficiality and material wealth. One of the first things he says to them is “look at my shit”, showing them his considerable firearm collection. Alien proclaims that these girls are his “soulmates,” and you know what, I think he’s right.
While my expectations weren’t the highest, and my cynicism was out in force, I must admit I was glad I took the plunge and decided to watch Spring Breakers. It’s visually unique, and the satire that drives it forward is almost always employed and executed to perfection. A surprisingly good principal cast, and a super Franco help to cement this as something that’s likely to be on even more top ten lists by the time the year is up. Oh, and it has perhaps the best use of Brittany Spears in any film. Spring break forever.