Remember the opening of Lars Von Trier’s "Melancholia"? Startling, disconcerting images - planets floating in orbit, birds falling from the sky, Kirsten Dunst looking really depressed - danced along the frame, in slow motion, set to Wagner. Harmony Korine’s opening for "Spring Breakers" isn’t all that different. But here, its breasts floating in orbit. It’s beer falling from the sky. Instead of Dunst looking depressed, we get a gaggle of college-age girls on the beach, slowly fellating their red, white, and blue popsicles. And it’s not set to Wagner - rather, Skrillex. This is a different kind of apocalypse.
It’s a glossy advertisement for the generation "Breakers" grapples with; the generation I grew up in. A generation that decided it was cool to be ’gangsta’, and then tried it’s best to ignore all the socioeconomic conditions that defined the culture it was aping. A whole nation of kids raised on rap videos, cable advertisements for "Girls Gone Wild," internet popups, blunts, and MTV Cribs. Brit (Ashley Benson,) Candy (Vanessa Hudgens,) Faith (Selena Gomez,) and Cotty (Rachel Korine,) are four of those kids, and they want to go on Spring Break.
When we meet them, Brit and Candy are goofing off in class, Faith is in church (I know), and Cotty is playing dice. They’ll, indeed, fulfill their character obligations later on (privileged, privileged, worrisome, and street smart, respectively.) Korine’s not subtle about the archetypes he’s playing with; everything about this film is loud - the way the girls rob a local ’Chicken Shack’ to get the cash for their trip, the way phrases like "this money makes my pussy wet" repeat over and over as if it were the hook in a rap track, the way the soul of Britney Spears (her music is omnipresent) hangs over it all like some sort of Mother Superior.
This is social satire barely-disguised as tasteless exploitation (I’ve heard some try and defend this as stealth feminism, but if that was Harmony’s true intention over comedy, well, yikes) and it works because it comes from a guy who can match the tastelessness of the milieu he’s making fun of. This is his "Strangelove."
And just when you worry it might start to get a bit repetitive - yes, even the nonstop scantily clad 20-something bodies and transcendent What-If-Dario-Argento-was-stranded-in-Hicksville-Florida neon cinematography by Benoit Debie - in comes James Franco, like a puff of fresh pot smoke, as ’Alien’. Korine’s aiming for surrealism, but Franco adds the much-needed dose of absurdity.
His take on the character lands somewhere between a hick version of Jay Gatsby and a white version of Lil’ Wayne (seriously - just wait for his soon-to-be-iconic "look at all my shit" monologue). If Britney is the girls’ Goddess, then for our guys it’s Tony Montana. And Franco, along with a former friend/rival played by Gucci Mane, is more than happy to try and live up to the coked-out ideal.
Then the craziest part of the movie happens. It’s not one of the gunfights, or the robbery montages, or the threesomes. No - Korine starts to shift the film into something else. Alien bails the girls out of jail and, in his Camaro complete with ’BALL’R’ license plates, brings them down to his hood (growing up, he was the only area white boy, says he). And "Spring Breakers" actually starts to talk about race. At times, frankly, it becomes a horror movie about small white girls (still clad in their ’DTF’ sweatpants) hanging out with Large Scary Black Men.
Strip-club confrontations occur, bullets are traded on a few occasions. "Breakers" is hardly a thesis film; Korine is admittedly more of a provocateur than a layer of dense subtext. But when these girls, who so easily appropriate what they thought was ’hood’ on TV while surrounded by other white folks, finally begin to don (pink) ski masks and shoot up houses - at one point, under UV lighting that turns their skin dark - it brings the film to heights equally profound and bothersome. Korine’s one of the few filmmakers alive enough to make something that feels truly dangerous.
There have been a lot of reductions tossed around in regards to "Spring Breakers", and I’m certainly as guilty as anyone else. You can call it a lot of things. A mash-up of B-action movies, rap videos, and softcore pornography. A Cinemax After Dark feature as directed by late-period Tony Scott. A weird dream that Michael Mann might have while on vacation in Florida after eating too much cheese. But all these comparisons and analogies are pointless. Harmony Korine’s made his best film; a beguiling piece of pop-art; a true original. It’s a masterpiece of a genre that doesn’t exist yet.