For a film that perpetrates itself with the dangerous excesses of the Millennial generation, using drugs, sex, and depravity, eventually spiraling into a criminal underworld, Spring Breakers ironically takes several steps towards tameness when compared to Hormany Korine’s previous work like Gummo and Trash Humpers. Whether this is a conscious step towards commercialism, aided by the casting of stars James Franco and Selena Gomez, or merely a subconscious reality reflecting the youth it depicts, or more probably something in between, is entirely arguable.
Spring Breakers is the story of four college girls who cannot live with the mundane existence of seeing the same things everyday, who’s only perceived escape is spring break in Daytona Beach. In order to make this a reality, the three characters who are not an immediate byproduct of Disney rob a restaurant. Selena Gomez learns of this immediately, and it makes her a little uncomfortable, but who is she to not give in to the peer pressure of her kindergarten friends that her quasi-cool Christian friends warn have the devil in them. No, rather than question this, they make a train of spanking each other in a hallway while singing It’s Getting Hot in Here. Maybe these events are less connected than the juxtaposition would infer, but the cyclical-montage editing style blurs all thematic implications—we’ll get to that more later.
Once at Daytona Beach, the girls partake in the profound, self-affirming excess of drinking a lot, riding scooters around, and singing pop songs. We know this is profound because we are told this with exposition in a one-sided phone conversation Selena Gomez has with her grandmother that is played at least five times throughout the film, even long after she’s decided things have gotten too intense and goes home. This ‘profoundness’ is translated visually through montages of half-naked twenty-somethings (I hope) pouring booze over their bodies while dancing to Skrillex, with the same shots sometimes repeating three or four times. Luckily, the film’s cinematography, and specifically it’s lighting, with sunset-soaked landscapes and neon-soaked rooms taken straight out of a Tangerine Dream, is actually quite profound, which leads to the believability of the girls’ perspectives of this. However, without this profoundness being translated to plot or character development, and inversely with the depths of their depravity being far too limited to speak to this with contrast, whatever profoundness these characters speak of is purely exposition.
Even more so than much of the motivation and character development being exposited through phone messages, my biggest issue with the film is the repetitious style of editing I mentioned before. Huge swaths of the film are montaged through an A-B-A-C-A type of structure in which we may see the same meaningless shot of James Franco’s car five times for no apparent reason, other than too discombobulate or simulate drugs, but as a person who has done drugs, it does not work. When we first see James Franco’s twin cronies cutting drugs when we are introduced to the extravagances of his house, then again the exact shots of them doing it at the end of the second act, when it is communicated that they are in his bedroom while he is having a fear-based pre-death emotional crisis, nothing is gained technically, thematically, in the story, or in any other way. This is just one example of many. I have nothing against repetition or cyclical structure; in fact, I often appreciate it, but technical devices should have thematic implication—repetition should build and eventually climax, cycles should reveal new information with gained perspective—none of which this film does. No new information is gained by seeing these same images or hearing these same monologues in a different context, rather it appears to be a choice inspired by the economy of the shot. This device is comically ironic, really; if the characters’ motivation is that they are bored because they see the same things over and over again, why would Korine show us the same things over and over again unless he intends to bore us?
The part of me that can appreciate three girls wearing purple tiger swimsuits with pink unicorn ski-masks and holding machine guns while dancing to a Britney Spears song sung by James Franco desperately wanted to like this movie, but the part of me that understood no law enforcement agency would ever allow four girls to spend two days in county wearing only their bikinis simply would not let me.