Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is essentially a movie without a purpose.
It’s a sensationalized film about sensationalism, and while it gets away with very little in the way of plot or character growth for much of the film, the ending seems to cast away any sense of obligation to make a grander point one way or the other about youth culture and depravity.
Spring Breakers is shot like a music video. It’s cut like a music video. Its characters think they’re in a music video.
Taking their cues from MTV, James Franco, Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson, and Vanessa Hudgens’ characters spend no mental energy at all on anything but image.
In one scene Franco, who wonderfully transforms into his subtly terrifying character “Alien,” actually gives the girls an MTV Cribs-style tour of all of his “sh*t,” bragging about his money, his guns, his Scarface DVD that plays on repeat, and even his collection of “shorts in every color” (pretty sweet right?).
The film tells the story of four college girls - Selena Gomez’s character being the least open to debauchery, based on a somewhat superficial adherence to Christianity - who want desperately to go on Spring Break and “see the world.”
They do whatever it takes to get there, including stealing a car and robbing a restaurant’s patrons, all in the hopes of reaching some fetishized party-girl ideal. They long for the “image” of Spring Break.
When it doesn’t pan out, they shove their messy experiences into that image, and wax delusional about how magical the world seems when you don’t have to deal with any of its problems.
And when those problems do arise, the girls begin to drop out, heading home by bus, dejected and depressed, and out of the film forever.
While Korine seems to have interesting ideas about what greed and childish egoism can lead a person to do, Spring Breakers is more of a collection of party-culture imagery than an exploration of that culture. The opening montage of beer being showered over bare breasts lets the audience know right away what they’re getting into (and for those who are interested: the bare breasts do keep coming).
What Korine does best in Spring Breakers is make the audience anxious. From the off-putting “gun-cocking” sounds that accompany many of the cuts between scenes, to the frenetic camerawork, oddly-colored scenes, and reliance on repetition (Korine uses several takes of the same dialogue, looped one after the other, often set in different locations), Korine set out to make viewing Spring Breakers an uncomfortable experience.
And when we as the audience finally have somebody speaking for us, when Gomez’s character gets as uncomfortable as we do with Alien and his cohorts, she disappears from the film almost instantly, leaving us feeling trapped in the discomfort.