It’s already been a full three–now going on four–weeks since spring break, but you can still revisit the vacation through director Harmony Korine’s latest film, “Spring Breakers.” Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine star as American college students whose hedonistic spring break turns distinctly criminal. Before heading to the party proper, they hold up a fast-food restaurant with hammers and realistic-looking water pistols to obtain cash for their trip. When they eventually make it to a Florida beach, they are jailed for the use of illegal substances during a beachfront party. Rather unbelievably, the girls are then bailed out by Alien, a gangster and rapper (played, with great enthusiasm and often to unintended humorous effect, by James Franco), who introduces the quartet to his illicit and luxurious lifestyle.
Though excessive both in terms of style and content, “Spring Breakers” is not “American Pie.” There’s a lot of skin, skin on skin, alcohol, drugs and passed-out girls–the movie is R-rated for a reason–but there are also pink ski masks, guns and violence, as well as enough intelligent undercurrents to make this an interesting film.
In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to describe the movie as “feminist.” A bit counter-intuitive, maybe, to label a movie satiated with images of breasts and bikini-clad girls this way. But if you look at the controversy the movie has garnered simply on the basis of the nudity and its inclusion of gun-wielding girls, it’s not so surprising after all. The girls refuse to be objectified in the most traditional sense: they defy the moviegoer’s expectations by shooting guns and killing people instead of pouting and generally looking stupid.
“Spring Breakers” can also be read as a critique of contemporary youth, especially of that privileged, mostly white socioeconomic class that can afford to party wildly for a week before returning to the safe and insulated environment of the college campus. The generic beach in Florida exists as a playground for them–another 1950s Cuba–again at the expense of the locals who belong to an emphatically different background.
One scene is especially striking. After the bail-out, the girls meet Franco’s genuinely sleazy friends for the first time, and one of the girls–a devout Christian aptly named Faith (Gomez)–wants out, despite having been open earlier to all manners of partying. The movie offers a clever depiction of the culture that middle America is so frequently stereotyped by: the willingness of middle-class white people to adopt black culture so long as there is no direct interaction with the actual people.
As Franco observes, “Spring break is when the scum arrive.” Harmony Korine clearly doesn’t fudge the issue.