For Charles Manson, it was the Summer of Love where he encountered runaways and damaged psyches.
For Alien, played by James Franco, it’s Spring Break, that annual college ritual where kids escape from the watchful chaperoned gaze of authority for a brief jaunt to the Florida coast.
And in director Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, the festivities provide ample opportunity for flourishing temptations to lead to disaster. For the first few minutes, it seems it’s but another MTV let-it-all-hang-out but with the extra benefit of Disney girls reserved for Beach Boys songs. Selena Gomez has dressed and moved like Annette Funicello in her brief career, and Vanessa Hudgens is a long way from High School Musical, as they are half of a quartet pooling their money to afford the trip to Spring Break. It’s as if the plot of Debbie Does Dallas had been modified, canceling the promiscuity for extreme makeover as a Roger Corman hellcat hit squad.
While Gomez is kneeling, her sisters decide to rob a diner. At that moment, it becomes clear this isn’t Superbad at the Beach.
Harmony Korine wrote the script for Larry Clark’s hedonic mishap Kids, and directed his own indulgent film, Gummo, which by the way has the distinction of being the only film I’ve ever walked out on – twice! Spring Breakers, though, is different from Korine’s previous shock-block cinema. It’s about girls who want to unwind, not guys out to score; its focus is on two actresses who were RadioDisney mainstays a year ago! It’s violent without massive bloodletting. The movie is by far the most pro-Christian film aimed at younger audiences in some time, with Selena Gomez as a character named Faith who believes God offers strength from temptation.
And for the scoundrel, the heavy, there’s Alien, who may have been a surfer dude at one time – at least that’s what his adversarial pal, a rival dealer played by Gucci Mane, insinuates. As Franco plays him, he’s seedy, repulsively unattractive, with barbed-wire grill and an arrogant swagger, sort of Claire Quilty behind a Manson grin. Hoping to control the streets, his modus operandi is that he seeks out strays – posts their bail and keeps them around, indentured against their better judgment to serve whatever purpose he needs, be it as prostitute or drug mule.
Spring Breakers falls in between Hostel and Where the Boys Are. At its heart is the story of Gomez’s good girl who wants to experience that which she believes she’s missing out on, and at 18 or 19 believes she’s equipped to handle the wild blue yonder. She willingly drinks and smokes and stays out at night, but she’s uncomfortable and refuses to abandon her principles. Unwilling to think before skipping down a one-way street, her girlfriends don’t share Faith’s hesitancy.
The movie doesn’t so much parody teen etiquette. Its boldness is that it unyieldingly proclaims that it’s sometimes the best course of action to be uncool and remain morally inflexible to save yourself suffering. Only one girl sees through Alien’s charm and it’s because she has the religious footing that enables her to know right from wrong. And of course, she’s the party pooper, a meaningless adolescent term similar to snitch or fink!
Spring Breakers would be nothing more than a cynical statement on Real World vanity, but Korine’s movie should be embraced for having the guts to go counter to the flow and bite the hand that buys the movie ticket. Like the Buffalo Springfield song goes, “there’s something happening here, and what it is ain’t exactly clear…”
College kids who haven’t been tested or faced death, who haven’t been properly advised of moral recourse, who aren’t capable of accepting parental criticism or judgment, who surrender caution in the face of peer pressures – when they reach beyond the gates of academia and are literally thrust into the streets, what chance do they have to keep from falling as prey? With neither principles nor preparation, if they live through it they may have to live down their bad decisions.
Spring Breakers reflects the mental dysfunction of a society that preaches tolerance at the expense of decency and moral certitude.