Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #479
Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 4, 2012 (Venice), March 22, 2013 (United States)
Sub-Genre: Neo-Noir/Crime Fiction
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $31,724,284
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Harmony Korine
Producers: Chris Hanley, Jordan Gertner, David Zander, Charles-Marie Anthonioz
Screenplay: Harmony Korine
Special Effects: Jeremy S. Brock, George Hirst (uncredited)
Visual Effects: Chris F. Woods
Cinematography: Benoît Debie
Score: Skrillex, Cliff Martinez
Editing: Douglas Crise
Studios: Muse Productions, Annapurna Pictures, Division Films, Radar Productions
Stars: James Franco, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Gucci Mane, Heather Morris, Ash Lendzion, Emma Holzer, Lee Irby, Jeff Jarrett, Russell Curry, Josh Randall, Travis Duncan, John McClain, Paige Anderson
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♬
 Ellie Goulding Lights
 Skrillex Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites
 Britney Spears Everytime
 Cliff Martinez Pretend It’s A Video Game
I have fond recollections of spring break. After an entire semester of towing the line and following somebody else’s curriculum, it felt great to let off a little steam and engage in some good old-fashioned teenage rebellion. While I would never have considered myself as a hell raiser per se, I did manage to inadvertently burn a liquor store to the ground and embarked on a short and ill-fated spell of shoplifting in my attempt to flick the bird at ever-burgeoning society. All things considered, however, I was hardly what you would call a hellion. It’s easy to recall these brief and infrequent instances of treachery but let us not forget the countless little old ladies I assisted in crossing the street and stranded kittens I rescued from trees. I’m fairly assured I still have a spot in heaven pending my final judgement, albeit perilously placed by a nearby flume leading directly to the sin bin.
It turns out that my seasonal shenanigans were positively powder puff in comparison to what Harmony Korine has rustled up for his controversial crime caper, Spring Breakers. Heralding from Bolinas, California which is easily one of the most tranquil Havanas I have ever visited, Korine soon relocated to the bustling East Coast and, by the age of nineteen, had penned the screenplay for Larry Clark’s insightful urban masterpiece Kids. Two years later he turned his hand to directing and his feature-film debut, Gummo, went on to become something of a cult classic itself. However, despite occasional forays into full-length filmmaking, he has dedicated most of his time since to writing for others and directing shorts. Something tells me that is about to change considerably.
Despite only ever receiving a limited theatrical release, Spring Breakers went on to make its budget back over six times over and caused quite the stir upon its unveiling. While its run of good fortune certainly wasn’t harmed by featuring such bankable names as James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Selena Gomez in pivotal roles, there are other reasons why it resonated so strongly with audiences. It commentates socially, politically, and culturally but does so in such a subversive manner that it never feels like Korine is preaching to the choir. Indeed, on the surface, it appears as though he is straying from the flock entirely.
“Bikinis and big booties – that’s what it’s all about.”
To begin with, Spring Breakers feels like a brochure for teenage excess, as we are provided with a heady cocktail of sun, sex, booze, and narcotics, set against the hazy backdrop of hundreds upon hundreds of sweaty inebriated revelers. If any parents ever wondered what really occurs once your little cherubs take that very first unsupervised vacation then look no further as Korine gets it pretty much bang on the money. His roving lens luxuriates in every debauched moment during what is essentially one long extended MTV video and, to the uninitiated, it may seem as though he is entirely self-possessed. However, aside from the sensory overload of his inordinate opening, he also has a story to tell.
“Just pretend it’s a video game. Like you’re in a fucking movie.”
Desperate to explore something outside of their own mundane existence and woefully short of funds, errant best friends Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson) and Cotty (Korine’s own wife Rachel) concoct a plan to make their proposed cross-country expedition to Florida a reality. After robbing an all-night Chicken Shack with squirt guns and roping the impressionable Faith (Gomez) into ditching her religious studies and tagging along, they head off to St. Petersburg on their voyage of discovery. It is made abundantly clear early on that this is more than simply a wish to broaden their horizons. They need this rite of passage and any disillusioned teenager will attest to such uppermost priorities.
Upon their arrival, they are greeted with open arms by the kind of fleeting acquaintances that frequent such holiday haunts and it appears as though they have found their slice of utopia. However, soon after the money runs out, so too does their run of good fortune. They wind up in jail after a drug raid and have nothing left in the piggy bank to pay the court’s fine, leaving them languishing in their communal cell in their two-piece bikinis. Sounds like the ideal moment for a knight in shining armor right? Well, instead of Richard Gere at the foot of a fire escape ladder with outstretched arms and a rose between his teeth, they get a straight-up G with cornrows, tricked-up ride, and enough bling in his grill alone to buy himself a thousand bitches. Thing is, he’s only looking for four.
“That ain’t a fuckin’ bed; that’s a fuckin’ art piece. My fuckin’ spaceship! U.S.S. Enterprise on this shit. I go to different planets on this motherfucker! Me and my fuckin’ Franklins here, we take off. TAKE OFF!”
After posting the girls’ bail, self-styled white chocolate rapper cum gang-banger Alien (Franco) introduces them to his own take on the American dream. Already rich beyond his wildest dreams by his mid-twenties thanks to drug and firearm trading, our mack daddy man-child learned that crime pays from Scarface himself and conveniently forgot how things turned out for his idol. Exercising his bragging rights at every available opportunity, it isn’t long before the girls receive an exclusive tour of his personal quarters and, after having the tables turned on him and performing grateful fellatio on his own semiautomatic weapons, Alien realizes he has found his “mother fuckin’ soul mates”.
That’s right. Behind all that false bravado are hints of the sensitive child he left behind long ago and Alien decides it is high time he reveal a little of his vulnerable side. Sat at his baby grand piano, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico at sunset, he recites his favorite Britney ballad while the girls cavort around him in pink balaclavas with cute unicorn emblems, toting AK-47s.
Truly one of the most bizarre sights I have ever witnessed, it is also strangely touching and, for a brief moment, we forget that he’s a big-shot arms dealer. However, with the threat of ex-bestie and now fierce rival Big Arch (Gucci Mane) looming ever larger, we begin to get the impression that this spring break isn’t going to last “fo’ever”.
Based on real-life rapper Dangeruss, Franco’s turn is bound to divide opinion but I am soundly in the pro-Alien camp. While I simply adored him as Saul in David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express, I would actually go as far as stating that Alien provides us with his magnum opus. His four female co-stars each give their absolute all for the cause. The trio of Hudgens, Benson and Korine manage to sell their sociopathic identities remarkably well although interestingly they exist less individually than they do as a unit and that is, in no way, a criticism. Meanwhile, Gomez may enjoy the least screen time as want-away good girl Faith, but her journey is no less pronounced and, her performance, every bit as commendable.
Music plays a significant part in lending Spring Breakers its vibe and is almost ever-present throughout. The dubstep licks come courtesy of Sonny John “Skrillex” Moore, while Cliff Martinez (Drive, Only God Forgives) once again proves his audio mastery with a handful of throbbing synthesized compositions that underscore events exquisitely. In addition, director of photography Benoît Debie (Enter The Void) drenches the screen in neon sherbet so appetizing that we just want to give it a snort. Korine chooses his shots wisely and the Chicken Shack smash-and-grab, in particular, is beautifully implemented, incorporating a single continuous tracking shot through the restaurant from the getaway driver’s perspective while the girls go about their business inside.
Where previous works like Gummo and Trash Humpers only ever reached a limited audience, Spring Breakers placed Korine firmly under the spotlight and, predictably, he drew a lot of criticism for the film’s glorification of the scene it is depicting. In fact, it does nothing of the sort but neither does he moralize either. Instead, he shows both the euphoric highs and ugly comedowns and suggests that we form our own conclusions. He’s never looking to either school us or mislead us, just to acknowledge a culture that very much exists, just as he did back in 1995 when dreaming up the concept for Kids. It’s one big pastiche of candy-colored fantasy and harsh reality which takes an unapologetic approach to portraying a generation and, indeed, succeeds because of it. This is one spring break I will remember fo’ever.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
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