Imagine a world where the hyper-stylized and visually daring realm of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive was fused with Popsicles that had met a sugary demise due to the sweltering heat in St. Petersburg, Florida. That resulting head numbing mixture is what it feels like to experience and watch Harmony Korine’s new film Spring Breakers. Known as an auteur who has crafted youthful narratives in the past by writing films like Kids and directing Gummo, Korine has forgone niche existences in favor of a collegiate right-of-passage. Spring Breakers won’t go down easy like a beer bong brimming with lighter fluid, but it will certainly jog the senses.
The best word to describe Spring Breakers is “unexpected.” Two of the four female leads (Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens) had previously been defined by their Disney pasts. Not only have they broken free of the mouse, but they tend to let their proverbial freak flag fly free for most of the film. While Korine is no stranger to shock antics, the story allows for the two teenage starlets to show that they have acting chops beyond a range of cliche. The addition of Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine to the band of misfits only further strengthens this key “sisterhood” that would immediately seem askew, but feels quite authentic by the time the credits roll.
Many will point to James Franco’s RiFF RAFF-like portrayal of “Alien” – a mixture of a gun-toting, teenage-boasting psychopath who fancies himself not only the girls’ savior, but also a keen Britney Spears aficionado. Franco’s acting chops are on display at maximum capacity, playing Alien so convincingly – and with a self-deprecating awareness – that he makes it clear to the audience that it’s every bit as okay to laugh at him as it is to laugh with him. In only a world conjured up by Harmony Korine, does James Franco play a rapper and Gucci Mane plays a kingpin. But somehow…it just works.
When it comes to a films production, product tie-ins can be a tricky and slippery slope. On one hand, they’re necessary in achieving certain aspects of the budget, but on the other they often seem like a not-so-subtle way for brands to wink at the camera as if to say, “the all is lost moment is brought to you by Coca-Cola.” Once again, Korine managed to integrate products that serve useful in defining characters – whether that be the SUPRA’s on their feet or a choice array of DGK products worn by the The ATL Twins.
Similar in nature to the eccentric cast, the musical backdrop for the film is just as eclectic. With aural duties handled by Skrillex, songs range from Ellie Goulding’s breathy dance track “Lights” to more Atlanta-centric hip-hop contributions from Waka Flocka and Gucci Mane. This heterogeneous assortment not only serves as lively accompaniment to the various party montages, but it also creates an assault on the senses as if gallivanting from one party to the other and sun-stroke is upon you.
Spring Breakers is by no means a perfect film, but it does prove that there’s a happy medium between being “weird for the sake of weird” and stepping outside of a cinematic comfort zone. As Korine said at the premiere in Hollywood last night, “experience it.”