We don’t really have Spring Break in England. If we did, the Facebook photo albums would probably depict chilly April weeks spent in Newquay; images of university aged thrill-seekers shivering on the beach in too-big LIFEGUARD hoodies with cans of Strongbow in hand would abound. Spring Break, like other institutions such as the McRib and Charlie Sheen, is probably best left to the prosperous US of A. Spring Breakers shows us why.
American-ness is intrinsic to Spring Breakers. It portrays what is becoming a singularly American rite of passage (and the pressure to participate in it which leads three of the four lead characters to rob their local Chicken Shack to raise enough money to travel to Florida), whilst skewing the American Dream into a terrifying LSD nightmare. It even stars three all-American sweethearts: like you didn’t already know, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson were all wholesome Disney Channel regulars during their early careers.
Whether intentional on the part of Harmony Korine, its notoriously weird (and totally wonderful) writer-director, or not, Spring Breakers indicts American youth culture whilst also glamourising it; it idolises MTV but wants to smash up the television set too. One poignant moment showcases this perfectly: Alien (played by James Franco who has rarely been better than in this deranged, good-hearted, gold-toothed role), a gangster who bails the four spring breakers out of prison after a narcotics arrest, plays an emotional rendition of Britney Spears’ Everytime on his piano (is anything more American than Britney, with all her successes and flaws?) as Brit, Candy and Cotty – Benson, Hudgens and Harmony Korine’s wife Rachel respectively – clad in pink balaclavas and sweatpants with ‘DTF’ emblazoned on the bums, sway and provide backing vocals. The song continues as the footage onscreen changes to show the four of them armed and violently robbing tourists in their hotel rooms. Britney’s dulcet tones linger in the air as we watch blood cover the floor.
Technically, Spring Breakers is Harmony Korine’s most fully realised work yet: its ecstatic score, composed by Skrillex, compliments the day-glo insanity of the performances (Vanessa Hudgens is especially fearless) and the camera work, often out of sync with the dialogue (the girls’ phone calls home are awash with “Spring Break is soooo lifechanging” clichés – an especially clever touch), has the stamp of all the director’s signature dreaminess.
Some critics have called the movie misogynistic, or hyperviolent, but for me, they’re missing the point. There is a reason all of the young women are thin and classically beautiful and the young men handsome and well built, and I don’t think these choices were made for Korine’s own titillation. There are too many shots of young women on the beach pouring beer on their breasts for it to be alluring; the violence is too nonsensical to be appealing – Korine is mimicking in his film the overexposure to artificial ideas about sex, drugs and bloodshed that young American adults experience every day; he celebrates it, hates it, and shoves it right up in all of our faces all at the same time.