Harmony Korine isn't well known to the audiences that will potentially be watching Spring Breakers this weekend, the man best known for weird romps into fringe societies (Gummo and Trash Humpers) represents independent filmmaking at its most obscure. That's what makes all the television spots for his latest effort all the more confounding.
The glitzy trailer and Skrillex music may suggest a film that celebrates the mass of partying that is spring break, but if Mr. Korine and James Franco are to be believed, this is sly satire masquerading as the type of visceral thrill that fratboys love. Any hopes that the satire will puncture through the membrane is entirely dependent on the effort of the audience member.
Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brittany (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are all life-long friends who live together in a boring college dorm and are looking for a blast this spring break. Awesome vacations don't come cheap though, they are a few grand short of their dream vacation, so they put their heads together and decide to pull a heist at a local restaurant. After the job goes wrong, the four spend the night in jail until they are bailed out by rapper Alien (James Franco). Alien promises to provide the girls with all the thrill and excitement they dreamed of, and with the help of the local drug/arms dealer, the girls are going to experience a spring break they will never forget.
Now in any other gangster movie, the rest of the running time would lead to Alien corrupting the girls and them realizing the error of their ways. Korine flips the dynamic with Candy, Brit and Cotty, entranced by the blood lust of Miami gangster life ratchet up the mayhem ten fold. Throw in some speedboats and AK-47s and the command to “act like you’re in a movie or something” and it becomes pretty apparent that Spring Breakers is making fun of its audience.
The film serves as a comment on how pop culture reduces women to sexed-up, offensive stereotypes by featuring female characters that are sexed-up stereotypes. Yet, Hudgens, Benson and Mrs. Korine all look and act exactly like girls straight out of a Girls Gone Wild video. The only real character with the depth expected in a satire is Franco's Alien. James Franco relishes the opportunity to embody an experimental piece through complete physical transformation constantly performing even when he isn't onscreen. Deconstructing the prototypical gangster and turning him into something much more entertaining.
That just makes not developing the girls as anything more than gun-crazed hooligans that much more disappointing.
Before critics celebrate the film for its biting wit, it is important to note that most of the subtext being discussed is brought by the viewer—if it isn't undercut by the displays of young flesh and Benoit Debie’s rich cinematography.
Satire is one of the most difficult forms of filmmaking and not every message is interpreted as a director would intend. Scarface was meant to be an indictment of capitalist/gangster culture and yet Tony Montana appears on the walls of rappers' homes on nearly every episode of Cribs. Spring Breakers wants to trigger some scathing comments in the back of your mind, but when the film engages in three ways, that satire becomes incompatible with what is displayed on the screen. Then this becomes no different from the smut Spring Breakers proclaims to tear down.