If it were a better movie, Spring Breakers might have been the perfect opportunity to break down the luster and bluster of spring break in Florida, an annual tradition that (according to this movie) resembles the last days of Caligula, with copious amounts of booze, drugs, sex and anything else that Mom and Dad (or even the law) wouldn’t approve of.
That image is captured in the film’s first 10 minutes, a slow motion, non-stop, anything-goes orgy on the beach. There are naked bodies, beer-bongs, cocaine and an alarming tally of bare breasts. The close-ups reveal that many of these girls are hardly in their 20s, so the image is a little striking, not to mention unsettling. If the movie had been able to break apart the luster of these images and show the real-life consequences then the point of this story might have been clearer. What we have is all frosting and no cake.
The central story focuses on four college girls: Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine). It is apparent from the start that these are not nice girls. Their activities suggest an unfiltered hedonism that travels at the speed of a runaway roller coaster (which might be attributed to the fact we never see any parents). The girl’s central activities seem to consist of drinking, drugs and minor flirtations with lesbianism. Armed with these skills, they decide that they want to spend their spring break in Florida so that (they say) they can discover themselves. We know better.
We don’t get to know these girls very well aside from their appetites. The closest is Faith, who spends her afternoon in a circle of a Christian Youth group where her eyes let us know that she’d rather be somewhere else. She’s essentially a good girl with the wrong friends. That’s why she’s alarmed when her friends become so desperate for vacation money that they decide to stick up a fast food joint.
What happens on vacation isn’t launched by that sporadic act of felony (actually, it is hardly mentioned), nor is it followed up on. The girls party like everyone else and only pay for their crime then they find themselves locked up for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are bailed out by a scuzz-ball calling himself Alien (James Franco, playing the flip-side of The Wizard of Oz). He’s one of those gangster-types with corn-rows, gold teeth, a tricked-out car and a house-full of automatic weapons. Physically, he’s about 25, but mentally he seems about 14. He occupies a lifestyle, not a life. He takes the girls in, makes them his partners in crime and then his lovers, in that order.
These girls, and Alien, hardly have lives that are explored, save for what we know about Faith. The best performance belongs to Selena Gomez. Faith wades in a sea of posers and Gomez plays her with a degree of intelligence and caution (she’s a long way from Waverly Place). We are caught off-guard by her vulnerability. Her face is loaded with baby-fat but her perfect body has moved into a state of uncomfortable maturity, especially in this environment. She participates up to a point, figuratively holding her hand to the flame until she can hold it there no longer.The movie looks great. Even when it doesn’t work, it still has a visual fire. Korine wants his images to linger. He lingers over naked bodies and drugs and guns and despicable behavior in a way that allows us to understand their allure. He has moments that are beautifully photographed, most notably a crime-spree montage backed by Britney Spears’ “Everytime.”
Korine is a good filmmaker. He is good with his images. The problem here is that he is more interested in images than characters. The girls in this movie do awful things, but there are no consequences. There is a message that seems to be aching to break out of Spring Breakers but it never does. The pieces are present, bad decisions are made, but the movie fails to act on them. For all of the movie’s critical raves from The Venice Film Festival, what has been brought to the screen is, essentially, style over substance; a good looking movie with a point still waiting to be made.