Spring Break. It’s a concept we don’t really have in the UK, at least not in the way that Hollywood tells me is the norm in the US. We don’t head to the beach, strap on bikinis, take half of it off and drink copious amounts of beer and spirits on the beaches and all start making out. If we did that here, it’d probably be as follows: head to the beach, strap on bikinis, put on at least four more layers, feel pretty miserable that the weather’s so awful and drink copious amounts of tea in a local café. That’s not to say we’re not an exciting nation – we are! I assure you! But our little rock isn’t built for beachy hedonism in the Spring. It also most certainly isn’t built for the sort of debauchery and extreme hedonism on show in Spring Breakers, that’s for sure…
Much has been made of the fact that this is written and directed by Harmony Korine – the guy that brought you the controversial Kids many moons ago. Me? I just associate the name Harmony Korine with the awesomely beautiful song by Steven Wilson (The Phonic Phage recommends it: linked here), so I don’t have much attached to this particular director if I’m being honest. Also, if you’ve just listened to that Steven Wilson song, then this film is the complete antithesis of it. Spring Breakers is big, brash and bold, so check your coat at the door.
The film revolves around four girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) and their quest to go on their first Spring Break down in Florida. They’re seeking the teenage American dream: the drugs, the drink and the debauchery. And they get it. But when it all starts to get a bit out of hand, they’re taken under the wing of Alien (James Franco) – a so-called “gangster”, replete with gold teeth and corn-rows. But how far will the girls go to hit the ultimate high?
It all sounds wonderfully superficial doesn’t it? It looks like a very dumb and gaudy premise for a teen drama, as does the trailer. You’d also probably believe this for the first 15 minutes of the film, which has more topless girls than your average adult entertainment convention. It actually made me feel a bit weird to be sitting there watching it, as I contemplated what the film was actually trying to achieve, and whether I’d be watching this for 90+ minutes. But it all changed dramatically when James Franco entered the fray.
I thought Franco was stunning in this film. He plays
Kid Rock Alien – the white boy gangster who’s living “the dream”: huge house, more money than sense and a bloody piano outside by his pool, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. What fascinated me with Franco was how convincing he was as the somewhat deplorable Alien. I found his character detestable, but his acting sublime. He’s acting full-tilt crazy and that accent? Perfect southern drawl. Franco gets a bad rep for sometimes “phoning in” a performance and playing the same role again and again, but this certainly isn’t the case here.
What of the remaining cast? The four girls? I wonder how this was sold to their agents to be honest, as they spend the vast majority of the film in neon bikinis. Much fuss has been made of this being the one to “break the mould” for Hudgens and Gomez who’ve both been associated with “pure” Disney films in the past. I guess its an attempt at rebranding from them both. I found the four of them to be thoroughly convincing in their roles, no doubt about that. They’re far from weak actresses, but I’d be keen to see what they all move onto next in a more “grounded” film that requires more clothes.
What really merits mention here is the cinematography. The film looks sublime. If I had to pigeon-hole it, it’s somewhere between Savages and Drive (but not as poor as the former, or strong as the latter). The colours are bold and beautiful and some of the shots are the type you wish you could frame and mount on your wall; they’re just that good to look at (and no – I’m not referring to the copious shots of topless girls). If nothing else, you’ll be impressed with how the film looks. I feel I also ought to focus on the soundtrack used here too. As some of you know, in a former life I was involved in the music industry (hence The Phonic Phage), so I have an ear for it. When I saw the trailers for Spring Breakers I was ready to dismiss it out of hand, as any film that makes a song and dance of its soundtrack generally isn’t worth watching. I don’t go to the cinema to watch Glee. But I was surprised. Sure, all of the Skrillex (aka Sonny Moore of now defunct metal band From First To Last) tunes were in place, but so too were compositions from Cliff Martinez. Who’s he? Only the guy that made Drive sound so goddamn fantastic. Essentially this clash of aggression and peace, along with the glaring neon and stunning visuals makes this a sensory feast for the eyes and ears.
This actually leads onto the major drawback of the film… what’s the point of it all? It’s an exhilarating ride to be on at times, but afterwards you don’t really know why you’re so excited by what you’ve just seen when you actually think about it. Either the film’s trying to be too clever for its own good and believes it’s delivering a very poignant message to the audience, or there is no message to be taken away from this and it’s pulled the wool over your eyes with all its visual and aural delights. The plot is there, but it’s somewhat hollow and you almost feel bemused with yourself for liking the film as much as you do. Indeed, you might actually walk out of the screening thinking it was the worst way you could have spent a couple of hours… but that’s the joy of Spring Breakers; Spring Break isn’t for everyone!
Spring Breakers is a lot like the wild party it shows on screen. It’s a giddy concoction of noise and visual splendour, but when it’s all over you’re left wondering what you’ve actually achieved from your time spent there. Sure, the memories of that experience are wedged in your head, but you’ve not learnt anything new; you just know you’ve had a good time. That being said, I think praise needs to fall on James Franco, as I’ve not been intrigued by a character in quite some time. For me, he carries this film on his shoulders and runs with it. If you’re a fan of Franco, or my rambling has tempted you into seeing something you’d normally dismiss as “a stupid teen flick” (despite its 18 rating), then I think you should go out there and make your mind up for yourself…
All this film goes to show me is that you can’t do something like this in the UK. Nowhere in our isles could you stay in a bikini all day and night (who hasn’t tried?!). Also, we don’t have those classy red cups that you US folks always seem to have at every frat / sorority party in the history of cinema. Plus, as much as I liked James Franco‘s deep south drawl, I don’t think we could have a character like that over here. For us, the deep south would be a county called Devon. Sure, the accent’s quite slow and meandering, but it doesn’t have that same allure… not by a long shot.