I saw Spring Breakers on a snowy Saturday afternoon about a week ago and there were only a few people in attendance at my screening. It was a very odd way to see a movie like this! There were a lot of quiet laughs scattered throughout the movie’s 90 minutes that seemed to say, “We should be laughing. Right?!” The energy in the room before the movie began was complete anticipatory excitement, but afterwards it shifted to an uncomfortable and odd nervous excitement during which many could only make bug-eyed half happy/half scared faces at each other in an attempt to express how they felt. Leaving a movie theater always puts me in sort of a daze,but the post-Breakers daze was something else entirely — readjusting to non-neons, trying to figure out what you’re going to say to your friends on the way home about what you all just experienced, piecing together what you’re going to be taking from it. Honestly, the first thing I said after I saw it was “I hated watching that.” Which is the truth! I really did! But I definitely didn’t hate it. I think I liked it? Clearly, a week later, I’m still reeling a bit. So let’s talk about it! FOREVERRRRRR.
Spring Breakers opens in a way that uncannily matches your worst nightmare and/or best fever dream of what the Spring Breakers experience would be. A visual and aural assault, set to Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” the movie immediately hits you with loud dropped baselines — the photography moving to match Skrillex’s spastic rhythm — lots of boobs, lots of beer ON the boobs, and constant, almost painful bursts of neon and sun. “Oh boy,” you think. “Oooooh boy.”
After the opening sequence sets the at once celebratory, beautiful, and VERY uneasy tone, the loose narrative unfolds in looped voiceovers and hazy peeks into the at-school lives of the girls. Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson sit in a crowded lecture hall in front of glowing computer screens simulating fellatio on drawing of a penis while talking excited about Spring Break while Faith, Selena Gomez, half-heartedly participates in a religious youth group, after which her youth group friends warn her against attending Spring Break with the bad girls. (The way that the movie just gets RIGHT into the girls desperately wanting to go to Spring Break, each of them treating it as if it’s a life-changing opportunity and a live-saving escape, is very funny. The gravity Spring Break [spraang brreeeak] is given throughout the movie is always very funny.)
We see the girls first break bad in order to fund their trip, with a quick robbery of the local chicken shack. The scene foreshadows the badness and power dynamic of the group — Faith stays home while Cotty drives the getaway vehicle, leaving Brit and Candy to “pretend it’s a video game” and gleefully rob the restaurant and its patrons. This was one of the better scenes in the film, taking inspiration from Gun Crazy‘s one-take heist scene shot from the inside of the getaway car.
The fact that the narrative is so loose and bare-bones makes it a very difficult movie to write about without resorting to flowery, artistic descriptions of the flowery and artistic depiction of Spring Breakers‘ debauchery. Which is boring! And I don’t want to do it! So instead I will say that it was scenes like the robbery scene, sprinkled in with the sparkling, shit-show party scenes, that actually made this a worthwhile film for me. The problems I had with Spring Breakers came up mostly when it seemed to be relying on its shock value which, at the end of the day, was not so shocking — kids are garbage and are only getting more unbelievable and ridiculous every day. We know that too well and see it frequently advertised on the Internet FROM THE CHILDREN THEMSELVES. So when it felt like the Spring Breakers was attempting to shock its potentially and unfortunately shock-proof audience (shock-proof at least in terms of what Spring Breakers has to offer, which is fairly minimal in terms of shock), it fell flat. But there were many instances when the movie reached a perfect combination of humor and weight and criticism and celebration, and those were great! Like the scene in which Franco’s Alien plays and sings Britney Spears’ “Everytime” while the girls dance with guns, leading into a montage of robberies.
That scene was great! Again! James Franco was remarkably good as the Riff Raff-inspired Alien, and the scenes in which he was allowed to BREATHEEE were the best of the film. The scene during which he attempts to convince Selena Gomez to stay, the “look at my shee-it,” the post-shooting scene during which he decides to kill his childhood best friend, Gucci Mane — all oddly believable due to the mix of his kind eyes, sweet sensibility, and totally fucked up everything else.
One of the reasons why I said that I hated the act of watching this movie is because, from the moment Alien whispered to Selena Gomez that he “had a heart of gold” and only wanted to take care of her, I was on edge waiting for him to prove the opposite. “When is he going to rape one of them?” I wondered. “When are they going to vengefully shoot him in the head while we have to watch?!” “I HOPE SELENA GOMEZ DOES WHAT’S BEST FOR HER AND STAYS BACK AT COLLEGE!” Always ready to cover my eyes, I waited and waited until Alien was killed by Gucci Mane’s gang, and I realized that…Uh, he did just kind of have a heart of gold? (Or at least as much of a heart of gold as a murderer drug dealer thief could have, LOL.) He did care about the girls! The way the tension built and built without being given any huge, shocking release is possibly the most surprising thing about Spring Breakers. There was no reason to sit in the theater, hands ready to cover your eyes. The violence is cartoonish, the girls are safe and stay at home once they go back, the and the consequences for our beautiful female heros are nonexistent. So, what is it saying then?
I don’t know! I honestly have no idea what Spring Breakers is saying. SOMEONE CALL ALL OF YOUR OLD COLLEGE FILM PROFESSORS, ‘CAUSE WE GOT A NOVICE OVER HERE! Maybe Spring Breakers is best taken in as a beautiful, sun-drenched, ultra-violent picture of how the world is seen in the eyes of our youth. Maybe it’s at once a cautionary and celebratory tale of the excesses of youth. Or maybe it’s just an excuse to watch a bunch of hot babes doing weird, cool, voilent shit while James Franco recites poetry over it, and also an excuse to see that Britney Spears scene. I don’t know. I’m stumped! One thing I do know is that I loved when Alien talked about the two different kinds of cologne he has and sprayed them both on and shouted “I SMELL NICE!” I do know that.