Spring Breakers (2012) is a film by screenwriter, and director Harmony Korine, starring Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and James Franco. Distributed by one of my favorite film companies, A24, it was one of the first the company worked on. While it features a number of huge movie/music stars (including Skrillex, who worked on the soundtrack), it had a very small budget of $5 million, and had a very small release. This release was also met with pretty mixed critical reviews, having a 67% critical score on Rotten Tomatoes, but only a 38% audience score. I remember being excited for the release of this movie, but unable to view it because of the limited release (and the fact that I was 13 and this is very much R-rated), so I decided to take a look and share my personal point of view.
The complexity, and controversiality of this movie shows in every single way. The female characters are oversexualized in pretty much each scene. And just about the whole movie can be summed up with raw, sexual, and explicit. With all that said, it does have a lot of good with it, and the artistic vision behind it is certainly impressive. It just seems that with just about every good thing, there’s a bad thing, and vice versa.
Firstly, I would say that the performances from the actors and actresses are spear-headed by James Franco as Alien. He does a great job captivating the audience, and stealing the spotlight from everything else. He has fun, he gets creative. However, everyone else is pretty negligible in the film. While the characters themselves matter, there were very few times I thought to myself “This is a fantastic scene from *blank*,” aside from one scene with Selena Gomez, where she cries about wanting to go home. The acting is certainly not what drives this film and makes it great, but James Franco is able to distract us from that while his face is on the screen.
Next, and probably most importantly, is the writing/plot. There’s really nothing special going on here, and it makes sense when the characters are largely uninteresting. Long story short, the movie is about four girls going to Florida for spring break, and getting caught up in some shady stuff along the way. As a general storyline, it’s nothing incredibly intriguing, and it leaves little room for character development from a lot of people. None of the relationships go anywhere too special, and it’s kind of disappointing. A couple of the girls that later leave get noticeably different, but most of that is set up from the beginning, and nothing too surprising.
The writing of the dialogue is also not incredibly great. There are few moments/lines that are memorably good, and instead, a couple that are memorably bad. There’s a scene with a line that does a good job at illustrating the level of dialogue at points, along with the level of sexuality. After the girls have robbed a bank, they end up with some cash, and while playing around with it, Vanessa Hudgens’ character says “All this money is making my pussy wet… it makes my tits look bigger.” While that’s not the level of writing at all points in the film, that sticks out greatly as a not-so-good moment, and I can’t think of too many great ones to go along with it.
While these few things seem like pretty major, back-breaking flaws, they’re made up for in many ways. The directing, the cinematography, the soundtrack, and just about everything else is almost perfect. The visuals in this film are some of the best I’ve ever seen, and the basic visual storytelling is brilliant a lot of the time. One reason why there’s not too much memorable dialogue is that there’s not much dialogue. The long shots of scenery mixed with a great soundtrack tell what you need to know a lot of the time. And although a lot of those shots with nude women could be cut, I think Harmony does a fantastic job at setting the scene, and making you feel how he wants to feel. Part of the reason this is so explicit is to make you uncomfortable, and to make you think.
As I said, the artistic vision is off the charts. The shots are beautiful and meaningful. There are some nice ironic lines and parallels you can really draw if you pay attention. The closing track is an orchestral version of the opening dubstep track, and perfectly juxtaposes the opening scene as well. The cuts are spot on, and the foreshadowing is done well without spoiling anything. All of the technical, and more aesthetic parts of the film are masterfully executed, leaving you to bask in Florida sun with the rest of the characters.
What I’m most conflicted about, is the aspect of social commentary. This film has gotten a decent amount of praise on the social awareness that it brings forth, but I don’t necessarily know how much it should get. While yes, it does give a darker look at some of these issues like temptation, crime, and finding yourself, it doesn’t seem to teach you anything at the end. The four main female characters are virtually unaffected by the numerous wrongdoings that they go through, especially the two that are left at the end. The ending scene is them driving off in a stolen Lamborghini, having a wonderful time. It’s one thing to say some words on certain aspects of society, but if you don’t teach us anything, I don’t know if you deserve praise for it. The mixed signals throughout really conflicts with itself.
Overall, I think it does several things really well and really poorly. As an art piece, I’d say it deserves a 10/10, but with many crucial aspects of filmography failing, I don’t think it deserves something close to that high. It reminds me of both a gangster movie such as Scarface (1983), and a recent Florida-based indie film such Tangerine (2015), or The Florida Project (2017). The difference between Spring Breakers, and these other critically-acclaimed Florida-based films, is the other parts of the film that it fails at. While Spring Breakers is much more cinematic, and epic (especially visually) than these other two, it’s not as creative at its other forms of story-telling, and I don’t think it has as good or as clear of a message. The characters for the most part are uninteresting and unexciting. The plot is sub-par. And the commentary is conflicting. These glaring flaws are often covered up by the masterful parts of the film, but are there nonetheless. Because of this, I’m going to give it a 6/10. I think Harmony does a wonderful job hiding the worse aspects of this movie with the better, making it a quality film, and certainly above average. But it’s nowhere near perfect.