February 2, 2023
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Review: ‘Spring Breakers’ offers a critique of the entertainment industry

This movie has pretty much everything: sun, fun, beer, breasts, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens taking bong hits, James Franco with a grill and a neck tattoo and, for the more culturally concerned cinephile, a cleverly disguised critique of the modern entertainment industry.

In “Spring Breakers,” director and writer Harmony Korine’s first wide-release film in more than a decade, the divisive auteur uses a stellar ensemble, clashing imagery and music dressed up like a spring break blockbuster to comment on an industry that glorifies violence, sex and life without consequences.

The story is centered on four women, played by Hudgens, Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine. One day, they decide that they need to get out of their college and go down to Florida on spring break to get away from the monotony of seeing and doing the same things with the same people day in and day out.

The plan sounds well and good, but the girls don’t have enough money. After a few lines of cocaine and some good ol’ fashioned brainstorming, bad girls Candy (Hudgens), Cotty (Korine) and Brit (Benson) decide the only way to get enough money in time to get down to Florida is to steal their professor’s car and rob a chicken shack with a squirt gun and a hammer.

With the money they stole, the girls bus down to St. Petersburg, Fla., and party hearty for a few days, having fun, letting loose and “finding themselves” in the St. Pete sun. This escalates until the girls are busted for narcotics and sent to jail, only to be bailed out by charismatic rapper/hustler Alien, played by Franco. Alien takes the girls under his wing and shows them a life of crime, until rival gangster Big Arch (Gucci Mane) catches wind.

It seems almost counterintuitive for a film starring Hudgens and Gomez to be lauded for stellar acting, but the cast of “Spring Breakers” puts on one heck of a show. Each of the girls plays her part with complexity and emotional depth, and their progression throughout the film feels genuine and unforced — especially good-girl Faith (Gomez). Gomez starts out the story as the moral center and plays toward the audience’s innocent sensibilities. This provides an effective foil to the wild-and-crazy antics of her friends and forces a viewer to empathize with Faith’s highs and lows and feel her struggle as she tries to hold onto her values in the moral wasteland that is spring break.

Throughout the film, Korine plays with hyper-saturated colors and fluorescents on black backgrounds to create beautiful, clashing shots. Neon bathing suits provide a slight glow in a darkened jail cell, and bright pink ski masks cut through the darkness of night. Each shot provides an interesting visual for the viewer, and sometimes it’s hard not to get lost in the beauty of the images.

All of the shots and scores seem carefully crafted to convey a message that words can’t hope to. Dialogue could’ve noted how depraved spring break partying can be, but grimy dubstep played over shots of real spring breakers shouting at and flipping off the camera as they pour beer over each other’s mostly naked bodies says it all. Any one of the characters could’ve pointed out how out of control things were getting during their partying, but distorted, jumpy footage during the girls’ cocaine binge cues the viewer that things aren’t in their hands anymore.

At face value, “Spring Breakers” is a pretty good movie. The acting is solid, it’s visually interesting and the plot is enticing. But underneath all of that is a serious critique of the entertainment industry.

“Just pretend like you’re in a f—ing video game or a movie or something,” Cotty said to the others to convince them to rob the restaurant in the beginning. During the first robbery, the camera is in the car, detaching the viewer from the violence inside, until the deplorable details are revealed later on. It’s almost like the robbery was OK, until the audience actually sees what happens. Many action and heist films focus on the intrigue and tension of a robbery, while not getting into its gritty nature. “Spring Breakers” does both, showing just how unreal that glorification can be.

Many spring break and crazy college adventure films focus on the here and now and tend to neglect the consequences of partying. Korine flips the traditional narrative on its head and gives a look into what can happen when partying gets taken too far and the people who live out that debauchery every day.

All in all, “Spring Breakers” casts a wide net. People who want a crazy party flick will get what they want, but so will viewers looking for a little bit more.

Four stars.

Racy film “Spring Breakers” gives a deliberately depraved portrayal of four girls’ spring break.