At one point in Spring Breakers, a character asks another after being told a seemingly unbelievable tale this question: “Are you serious?” The response: “What do you think?” This exchange is what I thought about for much of the film; it’s a key moment and one of the key tensions throughout. The tone of the film is one of satire — many moments are exaggerated so far that you can’t possibly take them seriously — and yet, the characters are as genuine as they come. It makes for an interesting and unsettling watch.
The real meat of the film begins with the robbery of a restaurant. There are scenes before this point — including an important monologue delivered by Selena Gomez about monotony and boredom — but the real crux of the movie begins here. There are four girls, three of whom are bad seeds. The other, Faith (Gomez), is torn between her religion and her friends. One thing is certain: they need money to go to on a spring break vacation in Florida. The three bad girls rob the restaurant. Then we are transported to Florida. The party begins.
Boy, does the party begin. The types of shots used in the early portions of Spring Breakers could be used as advertisement to lure people into coming there. However, things quickly go south when the gang gets arrested, bailed out by a wannabe rapper/gangsta, Alien (an unrecognizable James Franco), and start getting involved in his lifestyle. After this point, I don’t even want to get into what goes on in this film; doing so would spoil some of the fun, anyway.
Spring Breakers will make you laugh. It will do this by any number of methods. It’s sometimes to silly to take seriously. Other times, it’ll make you uncomfortable and the only thing you can do to ease the tension is laugh. There are also some genuinely funny jokes. Some people will truly appreciate the satirical nature that much of the film has. Once Alien arrives in the picture, the tone of “not-innocent fun” is turned into something far more dangerous and horrific.
However, this tone is in direct opposition to the characters of the film, who take pretty much everything at face value, and with one hundred percent sincerity. When they say something, they mean it. There’s no hidden agenda, no secrets, nothing — they’re initially here to have a good time, but become different as they progress. They are almost all innocents — at least, in terms of interacting with others — which is even funnier when you compare that to many of their actions, which are anything but innocent, even if they are all truthful.
This tension makes for a viewing experience that is always interesting, but also very unsettling. It’s hard to process a film like Spring Breakers, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for disliking it for that very reason. And that’s not even getting into the movie’s style, which is not at all conventional. You see a movie like this one and you instantly become aware that it’s made by someone who thinks of himself as an artist. Whether or not that’s a good thing is going to be a matter of individual tolerance.
There are parts of Spring Breakers that feel self-indulgent, or as if the director, Harmony Korine, is showing off. Some of the shots are out of focus, not even on the people talking, or filtered so that they either look like they’ve been taken by a home video camera from 1995, or so that you can barely make out what’s going on. It gives the film a unique look but sometimes gets in the way of what’s going on. Other techniques, like the repetition of many of the film’s lines and scenes, serve a more important purpose; in this case, to emphasize the “monotony and boredom” speech mentioned earlier.
I hesitate to call this a problem. The look of Korine’s picture ensures that you won’t see many, if any, other films like it. Isn’t it better to see something that tries to be original than see the same thing over and over again? We’ve seen endless party movies before. We don’t have any need to see another one. Korine attempting to change things up, even if it isn’t always successful, is something that should be applauded, I think. And because it does give us some memorable scenes, like one where James Franco belts out a Britney Spears tune as an amazing montage occurs, you should definitely take that as a positive.
What Spring Breakers isn’t is an actor’s picture, unless your name is James Franco. Franco finally does some real acting — for the first time in a while — completely disappearing into his character. When he arrives, Spring Breakers becomes something worth seeing. The girls, on the other hand, are mostly interchangeable. Apart from Gomez — who is absent from the final two-thirds anyway — the other three girls are all essentially the same. Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine do nothing to separate themselves from the pack.
I don’t know if I liked Spring Breakers. I don’t think it matters. I recommend it anyway. It is a film you won’t see every day. While it might be too weird, too self-indulgent, or just too uncomfortable or unconventional for some, I think it’s definitely worth seeing, if only to say that you did. It puts its audience in an awkward position, as we’re placed in the middle of a few opposed ideas. That makes it harder to digest, but possibly more interesting. If nothing else, it is unlikely to bore you, and I definitely think it’s worth seeing.