“I don’t want to be like them. I just really want to get out of here.”
Approximately every 18-to-25-year-old ever has declared a statement to this effect, the mantra of Selena Gomez’s character Faith in the subversive Toronto Film Festival selection Spring Breakers. Why live a dull existence when there is a perfect life happening somewhere else in the world right now? The self-reflection pushes the religious coed to throw caution to the wind and head to Florida with her thee fun-loving friends. Beer, beach, and bare breasts follow and at first, Spring Breakers looks like just another big screen excuse to watch beautiful people act wild. Thankfully, it’s anything but. Director Harmony Korine toys with Girls Gone Wild iconography to skewer party culture, the twisted priorities of modern young people, and the “American Dream.” Gomez’s Wizards of Waverly Place are officially over.
Teaming up with a provocateur like Korine is a daring move for Gomez and her Disney-spawned costar Vanessa Hudgens, whose role as Candy dives even further into the realm of R-rated flamboyance. Not just because of the sex, drugs, and boozy mayhem that go hand and hand with a party atmosphere, but because Spring Breakers will leave most of her fans (or maturing male onlookers) unsatisfied. Korine goes for the throat in his satire, portraying his quartet (which includes Gomez, Hudgens, Pretty Little Liars‘ Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) as privileged college junkies who deserve better lives. In-between snorts of cocaine and massive bong hits, the girls take to armed robbery in hopes of collecting enough money to make it to the beach. It’s a disturbing look forward in the lives of Gomez’s core audience, a generation that’s grown up in the Internet wild wild west, where piracy is as routine as checking Facebook. The girls aren’t getting exactly what they want when they want. So they take it.
When the foursome eventually makes it to spring break, their freedom and recklessness are immediately amplified. While neither Gomez nor Hudgens strip down like the random topless extras that often surround them, the duo and their two cohorts take part in every aspect of debauchery: Candy blows marijuana smoke into Brit’s (Benson) mouth; Cotty (Korine) teases a pack of bros with seductive gestures while guzzling tequila; Gomez chugs beer from intricate plastic tubing. The girls feel empowered — party life is seductive and they’re at the top of their games — but they have zero respect for themselves or the people around them. That’s Harmony Korine’s master plan. If spring break looks like a blast, there might be something wrong with you.
Then they meet Alien, a rapper whose metallic grill and cornrow braids emobdy another side of spring break mirage. In the hands of James Franco, Alien is one of the craziest, funniest characters of the year — a spot on recreation of Kevin Federline. He woos the girls with his rhymes, his drug dealing operation, his guns, his money, and his clam shell bed. He bluntly declares that he is the “American Dream.” The young women swoon. The behavior is comical, but it also strikes up fear — with violence and drug culture being such a big part of what’s “cool” in media, it’s not hard to envision real people take to an Alien-type persona. And that’s what happens to the Spring Breakers, who eat up the faux-gangster lifestyle that harkens back to their days of holding up restaurants with squirt guns. It’s only when Alien and the girls are taken to a real part of town, where real criminal business is conducted and people can actually be hurt, that they start to wake up. Faith realizes she’s in over her heard and, maybe, it’s time to go back home to mommy.
Anyone who goes into Spring Breakers expecting Project X will probably be searching for the nearest exit by the 15 minute mark. Following suit with Korine’s past work, the film is hallucinogenic in its composition and absurdly funny (Franco’s repetitive use of the phrase “spring break for evaaaah” in a tone better suited for a Keats poem is pure genius). That’s not easily digested, but fans of Gomez ready for the next step in the evolution of the actress, as a performer who doesn’t look backwards or consider the implications a single risky role might have on her career, should find enjoyment. Spring Breakers is challenging. It asks people, young or old, to question what they fantasize about. Even more so than a round of beachside beer pong.
[Photo Credit: Annapurna Pictures]
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