Review originally published on September 8, 2012 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.
"A girl should be two things: who and what she wants." - Coco Chanel
"B*tches ain't sh*t but hoes and tricks." - Dr. Dre.
Years ago, I saw a cartoon in an alt weekly that's stuck with me. A performance artist is doing something absurd. Someone shouts something to the tune of "you can't hide your lack of creativity by intentionally acting dumb." The artist cheerfully fires back, "all response is valid!" It's a can't-lose proposition, and that's what Harmony Korine has on his hands with his brilliant/putrid satire/pornography. It's shallow, it's boring, it's poignant, it's clever, it's poorly acted, it's intentionally poorly acted, it has no story, it has marvelous scenes, it is artful, it is hallucinatory, it is shoddily put together. All response is valid.
"Spring Breakers" is the story of four nearly nude, nubile girls bored with their deadbeat college, so they rob a diner to pay for a trip to Florida. Once there, they get high and get laid (which is kinda what they were doing up at school) but now they do it on the beach. The cheap hedonism is an epiphany for them and it gives them a purpose in life.
It would be easy to dismiss "Spring Breakers." Lord, I'd like to. Anything that exploits women this ruthlessly begs to be dismissed. (And, sorry, Disney Girls Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens, you may think this is your ticket to an adult career, but this isn't "Ruby in Paradise" and none of you are Ashley Judd.) Unfortunately, there are moments, somewhere in the cannabis haze of day-glo bikini buttocks and cocaine-topped nipples where an abstract expressionism starts to seep off the screen. The swirl of horny jocks, skanky girls and inadvisable behavior mixed with booze, bongs, bling and ridiculous signifiers like wiggers and bronys all starts to become. . .beautiful.
Luckily, for Korine's sake, nothing in this tale of three bad girls and their one wayward Christian friend on a crime and promiscuity bender is meant to be taken literally, or all that seriously. At times the jokes are obvious - like an appearance before the bench in quite skimpy bikinis. How you'll take some of the other flourishes, like the fact that most of the girls' dialogue simply describes the action that just happened, or the endlessly repeating vague platitudes (a technique also seen in Korine's "Trash Humpers" and "The Fourth Dimension") will be entirely up to the viewer.
"Spring Breakers" is the type of movie where you wonder when it's actually going to kick in and start, then you check your watch and see it is nearly over. The first third of the movie is just a curvy rear-end of bad behavior shaken in your face. Then the girls get busted. (They spend a lot of time with dozens of hot young boys and girls writhing and destroying hotel rooms.) They are bailed out by James Franco, an absurdly cornrowed gangsta with platinum teeth.
"Look at my sh*t!" is his mantra, as he excites the girls with his conspicuous consumption. It is a wonderful, dreamy monologue, the inner voice of a grunting, illiterate barbarian.
Twice on the soundtrack, we hear Gomez's call home to her grandmother. "We found ourselves here. It's so beautiful." The juxtaposed images the first time are of lewd prurience, and it is up to you to decide if this is to be tskked or accepted as just "kids having fun." The second time, however, the adventures have turned more dark, more surreal and more violent. By the end, our spring breakers are wearing pink ski masks and gunning down drug kingpins in a blood ballet.
The big question is if this is art or if this is b.s. I guess I'm an easy mark, cause I'm inclined to call it art. Some of the sequences, with evocative music by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex, really work. Other times, however, it fails and fails hard.
The acting is quite poor. Korine may be nuts, but I don't think he intentionally asked for bad performances. Also: the shtick of repetitive dialogue sometimes feels like he only shot a few lines from different angles and decided he needed to use all of them to pad this flick out to 90 minutes. Gomez' character just up-and-disappears and, I swear to you, I would not be surprised if it was because the actress only had a few days for "Spring Breakers" and had a prior commitment. The film's scenario (I won't even call it a script) is so free-form that changes like this don't really matter. "Act like you are in a movie, or something," the girls tell one another.
The odd thing is, for a picture like this, one whose purpose, I believe, is to be critical of our consumptive culture, a film that's eating itself is kinda perfect. All response is valid.