Based upon the title alone, Spring Breakers could easily be perceived to be a teen-comedy in the vein of an "unrated" National Lampoon flick, when in reality it's almost an indictment of spring break and the uninhibited party culture. Directed by Harmony Korine (the infamous director of the 1997 film Gummo), Spring Breakers follows four girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, and Ashley Benson) as they go on a spring break adventure that goes bad. Furthermore, this is Korine's modern interpretation of the American dream and The Great Gatsby.
Selena Gomez plays Faith, a young and seemingly innocent girl of faith who is introduced as a church-going college student. Her church pals encourage Faith not to go on spring break with her friends because they will lead her astray and they warn her to "pray hardcore". Faith gets with her non-church pals Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine), and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) to deliberate on their spring break plans - but they find that they don't have enough money between them to do anything. Without Faith's knowledge, the three of them head to a store with squirt guns and hammers and successfully rob the place - their money problem is solved! They regroup with Faith and show her all the money they acquired and hit the road for spring break. The beach parties are wild and gratuitous, the drug use is excessive, and the girls are lovin' it. At one of the beach parties, a rap show begins introducing the gangster rapper Alien (James Franco). When the four girls get arrested in a hotel for drug use, it's Alien who bails them out - and that's when the film truly begins.
The first three minutes of the film are extremely over-the-top with topless girls, beer chugging, and spring break partying. The screen then cuts to black, and then cuts to a college campus - it's calm and peaceful. A teacher can be heard in voice over speaking to a class about "the second reconstruction" and the Civil Rights movements. Then we see a group of college students at a church group praying and singing - the transition from the first 3 minutes to this is jarring and successfully introduces the idea that this isn't going to be an ordinary spring break Girls Gone Wild flick (aka: "Girls With Low Self-Esteem"). The plot, at times, is intangible as it cuts back and forth between the past, the present, and the future - this doesn't make the film indiscernible though (an important clarification). Korine stated at the Toronto International Film Festival that he wanted for the film's editing style to be similar to music - this is reflected in reoccurring visuals and sounds that go throughout the entire film.
Visually, the film is very aesthetically pleasing and unique. It's a neon-landscape that reflects the drug-use of the protagonists and harkens back to Gaspar Noé's 2009 film Enter The Void. For starters, its visual resemblance to Enter The Void is no coincidence as both films have the same cinematographer - Benoît Debie (who was brought onto Spring Breakers because of his work on Noé's film). Each scene seems to have a unique color that could be used to visually differentiate any given scene from another (neon blue, neon pink, deep blue, dark green etc).
The score for the film was composed by electronic artist Skrillex and film composer Cliff Martinez - an interesting, but not far-fetched, collaboration. Cliff Martinez is best known for his 1989 soundtrack to Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, and Videotape and more recently the 2011 film Drive by Nicolas Winding Refn. Ranging from dub-step to the ethereal tones that Martinez is known for, the music is very effective at conveying the tone of the film and carrying us through this non-linear film.
This truly is a film that seems more concerned with concept than actual plot. At one point, Alien is showing the girls his home and says, "This is the American dream. This is my dream!" He then opens one of his bedroom drawers and exclaims, "I got shorts! Every color!" This is a very odd reference to The Great Gatsby, but this slight reference really opens the film up for interpretation. The Great Gatsby is all about the American dream, and in this film Alien is Jay Gatsby. Alien has everything, but he doesn't have love - just like Jay Gatsby who has shirts in every color but can't have Daisy. Similarly, Alien has acquired his wealth in a dishonest fashion just like Jay Gatsby (both have also changed their names). Interestingly, there are several scenes in Spring Breakers that suggest topics covered within The Great Gatsby including racism. With the teacher's voice over at the beginning concerning the Civil Rights movement and the reconstruction after the Civil War, there's a feeling when Faith gets uncomfortable around Alien's friends (who are all black and potentially gangsters) that there is a fear of the culture that she is surrounded by. In The Great Gatsby, Tom Buchanan expresses, "We [Nordics] have produced all things that go to make civilization – oh, science and art, and all that." Regardless of the intentions of Korine or the character Faith, these elements can all be drawn from as points of reference. By the end of the film, the two girls who end up staying are probably fulfilling the role of Nick Carraway (the narrator of ...Gatsby), as they assimilate themselves into Alien's world and truly care for him. In a way, Alien and Gatsby's fates are similar as they are destroyed by the men who made them successful in an attempt to win the hearts of the women they love. Perhaps the otherworldly color scheme and lighting of the film is harkening to the green light at the end of the East Egg.
Though The Great Gatsby references are interesting, they don't particularly save the film for me. Even though Korine's intention of making spring break look disgusting and immoral is achieved, it's almost overkill. It's so vulgar at times, that within the context of what we're shown, I question the R rating that this film received as this is truly NC-17 material. I have no quip with NC-17 films (an odd majority of my favorite films are rated NC-17), but this really is a sickening film at times. Aside from the content, there are some wonderful performances from Franco and Gomez, and the fast-paced hallucinatory style of the film makes Spring Breakers an interesting experience. I didn't particularly find the film amusing when it was trying to be funny, but I found the visceral violence and debauchery to be very effective. The concept of the film is great, and the visual execution is superb, but its lack of a legitimate narrative is concerning.
My ranking 3/5