Spring Breakers (2012) is not your traditional fun in the sun spring break movie. But then you wouldn’t expect that from Harmony Korine, the self-appointed agent provocateur of American indie cinema confrontation, even with a cast that includes Disney Channel sweethearts Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens.
They play two of the four college girls (Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine fill out the BFF quartet) who head to Fort Lauderdale with funds appropriated in a fast food stick-up. It’s the first of a cascade of transgression that lands them in partnership with a Florida rapper / drug dealer named Alien, played with a strangely sleazy charm by James Franco with such commitment that you can’t help but be caught up in his delusions of crime-wave grandeur.
Korine doesn’t debase these girls, mind you, even as they dive head-first into a sensory explosion of sex, drugs, and snatch-and-grab robberies. For a satire of the culture of excess, Korine really wants us to share the rush of bad behavior and instant gratification, even while acknowledging the doom of such a lifestyle, and in his own way he offers a perverse portrait of cultural empowerment. These girls don’t just inspire Alien, they essentially take charge.
As a work of cultural satire, Korine lays it all on the surface, but what a surface. It’s Bonnie and Bonnie and Bonnie and Clyde with Day-Glo color, teen exhibitionism, and gangsta street violence, with a pop music score and a hip-hop mixmaster soundtrack and editing style. The film keeps looping around, repeating images and audio punctuations like a backbeat and a chorus.