Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers has gained time in the press for being the first "adult" movie for a trio of Disney-bred actresses. Selena Gomez (The Wizards of Waverly Place), Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) and Ashley Benson (Pretty Little Liars) want to leave their good girl images behind by parading in bikinis, drinking and doing drugs. The kind of thing young actresses like to do when they want to leave their wholesome teenage image behind.
Just in concept, Spring Breakers sounds like a morally dubious movie. Four college girls (the fourth one is director's wife Rachel Korine) go down to Florida to break lose during spring break, where they get into lots of trouble. In practice, it is more complicated than that. Korine's breakthrough came in 1995 when he wrote the script for Larry Clark's controversial Kids, another movie that took a look at teenagers doing drugs and having sex. Kids had a clear moral message about what happened to its characters, Spring Breakers blurs that line a little bit. It is not a celebration of excess like Project X (my choice for the worst movie of last year), but at the same time, it doesn't exactly condemn its characters for what they are doing.
Selena Gomez's character in the movie is differentiated from her friends for being religious, and Spring Breakers unfolds kind of like a prayer. Voice over monologues about spring break, the wandering camera and the repetition of certain portions of dialogue and images make it feel like a mantra, like a version of The Hangover by the way of Terrence Malick. For the people watching it, like for the girls on screen, this is above all an experience. The esoteric qualities make it feel like a different time and space, by the time a gangster named Alien (played by James Franco) comes in to bail the girls out of jail, the more excessive and ridiculous qualities of the movie take another level.
The movie is not a serious and moralizing drama, it embraces the more comedic and outrageous elements of the situation. Franco's character in particular, is quite a creation. After sleepwalking in his recent movies like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Oz the Great and Powerful, Franco is incredibly alive as Alien. So much so that his performance feels like the kind of rediscovery people experienced last year with Matthew McConaughey's turn in Magic Mike. A scene in which Franco goes on a monologue about all the things he has is sure to be one of the most hilarious scenes I'll see at the movies this year, and at the same time, is incredibly indicative of what this movie wants to say about youth culture.
Yes, Spring Breakers has something to say about the youth. It's just that it isn't taking a side and sticking with it. It wants to show more than it wants to tell. I feel like it isn't condemning its characters, but at the same time I couldn't imagine someone coming away from this movie taking from it the same thoughts you would take from watching MTV's 90s coverage of spring break or a Girls Gone Wild video. There is something genuine and highly realistic inside this fantasy mantra that makes your head uncomfortable and gets you to start thinking. Spring Breakers might not be a completely satisfying watch, but there's no doubt it's being successful at what it aims to do.