Movie Review: ‘Spring Breakers’

In theaters

“Spring Breakers,” written and directed by Harmony Korine, 94 minutes, rated R.

“Spring Breakers,” from writer-director Harmony Korine, is the cinematic response to the moronic war cry of a generation: YOLO (you only live once, for those not in the know). In the wrong hands, this is the motto that inspires youths to, frankly, act stupid, and Korine examines an extreme form of the phrase with his latest film.

Four friends (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine), are tired of their boring lives in their boring town, attending college courses in between getting high pretty much all the time.

What is the solution to get these girls out of their rut? Spring break in Florida, of course, where they can do drugs and get drunk with hundreds of others in a new, slightly more exotic yet dirty locale. So desperate are these girls for their spring break, that the three bad girls, Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson) and Cotti (Korine), rob a restaurant late one night so that they can actually afford to go on the trip.

On spring break, these girls “find themselves” while partying nonstop in their distorted idea of paradise, where the Natural Light flows like wine, and the women are objectified just like in the music videos and MTV Spring Break specials that kids grow up watching. The four friends become enamored, and want to live in this world forever.

The law catches up with the girls while they’re doing drugs in a random hotel room, and they’re carted off to prison, only to be bailed out by Alien (James Franco). A career criminal and self-proclaimed YouTube rapping sensation, Alien takes the girls under his wing and teaches them all about his thug lifestyle and how he’s made it big. It’s kind of like a mock episode of “MTV Cribs,” as Alien shows off his “Scarface” DVD (which he watches on repeat), nunchucks, tanning oil and grills, mesmerizing Brit, Candy, and Cotti into joining his gang.

Parody is front and center here, not in the way of a Wayans Brothers spoof, as some might assume, but more like Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” forcing us to take a long, hard look at the culture we’ve been complicit in creating. Harmony Korine has a strong, independent voice and vision that really comes through here, and is sure to spark debate among movie-goers.

There’s another side to “Spring Breakers,” though, that is very funny, as the film alters its tone significantly with the introduction of Alien. The final third of the movie goes off the wall in the best way, with some of the most strangely comical moments I’ve seen in years.

Hudgens, Benson, and particularly Gomez, who plays Faith, the character with the most redeemable qualities, earn respect for pursuing something that is so risque and controversial, and also for doing it so well. James Franco, however, is on an entirely different level, delivering his most bizarre role to date, in a career that could be best described as performance art. It’s nothing short of brilliant.

“Spring Breakers,” with its sensitive subject matter and hard-R rating, will certainly push buttons with some audiences. Others just simply won’t understand it. But for me, “Spring Breakers” is a pop culture masterpiece that truly gets it.

Grade: A

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