Sping Breakers – Harmony Korine goes wild. (film review)

I knew as soon as I saw the trailer, I was going to love Spring Breakers.

Spring Breakers is biting social satire. Those who regularly attend the real spring break would be hugely offended if they understood or even recognized subtle (or not so subtle) irony, but fortunately (as Harmony Korine seems to think) those people don’t exist. The film is deliberately ironic but also feeds of the spring break iconic nature.  In a lot of ways the film looks like sweets – like lollies (candy in American English) – sugar as its fed to children.

The trick to this film is in the repetition   The endless cycle of attempts to have reality meet desire and the endless crowding in of reality upon desire. Harmony Korine shows us in Spring Breakers even bare breasts can get dull and monotonous. James Franco’s haunting voice whispering “sprrraaaaaannnnngggg braaayyyyyykkk” in your ear, the psychedelic colors, the failure of each character to meet its own fantasmic high, or even the bad-ass view they have of themselves. Everything is wrapped up in an endless repetition that exposes the desire for what it is: Bikinis (they even wear their bikinis in court), dialogue repeated in a cyclical fashion, Ali’s ridiculous collection of weaponry; even Scarface (is there anything as suburban / pedestrian as imagining you are a film gangster?) is on an endless loop in Ali’s home. The cycle of breasts and booty, drugs and rap music.


Cleverly, Korine focuses the film on the women so it is their story we are experiencing   The first part of the film centers around their desire to be where the action is and their attempts to see themselves as “wild.” The inference  to you-know-what is immediate and deliberate. The correlation between the Girls Gone Wild franchise and Spring Breakers is brought to the fore with unmissable connections. Because the film is from the female perspective, the endless images of topless women and is seen from the female perspective.  Even when the camera pans to the breasts, it is usually to reveal the male gaze from a female perspective. The camera will focus on the upper torso and head of the topless woman, and then lower to focus on her breasts and then rise again to include her face. This shot is repeated to the point of tedium, and cleverly gives us a little insight into the monotony of breast watching from the perspective behind the breasts. Korine channels the priggishness perfectly. It is no accident that the young women meet Ali (James Franco) in court. Joe Francis, the founder of the Girls Gone Wild franchise practically lived in court while he was making all the Girls Gone Wild films.


One of the court cases Francis lost – and this point speaks to the cleverness of Korine – was the accusations of his filming underage girls. By using Disney stars for his parody of Girls Gone Wild, Korine brings the underage theme to the fore. The women are not underage (they’re not even teenagers) but immediately upon announcing them as staring in the film, the world “went wild” over their desire to continue to see these women as childish innocents. But in a delicious double play, Korine reveals all the spring breakers to be prudish, childish innocents; The girls gone wild films were always the ultimate in prudish, self-conscious awkwardness. Like many of the women who gave their consent in the films under the influence, and later took Francis (unsuccessfully) to court, they all have their breaking point when they will go home to “mother.” Interestingly Francis was accused at one point by three women he’d had together in his home.  In one of the films most chilling scenes, Ali tries to talk Faith (Selena Gomesz) into staying with him rather than going home. Its one of the films rare “real” scenes that accurately portray the young woman’s dilemma – do I stay with my friends to look after them even though I know I am in serious danger? It also reveals the fine line between the man who will hurt and the man who will not. Ali sweet talks Faith in a way that forces you to scream “go home” from your seat – and yet none of it was a rouse. Ali genuinely didn’t mean Faith any harm. But, how can you tell?


This is the difficultly for young women accurately portrayed on the screen.  Trying to work out which guy is a bad one. One of Ali’s more interesting lines: “you’re making it so easy for me.”

Much is made in the film of the desire to be “seen” and to be on television or the big screen. In an absolutely hilarious scene, Ali plays Brittany Spear’s “every time” on the piano while the girls dance around him with guns. It’s no accident that every times opening line is “notice me”, just as it is no accident that Spear’s  – the girl gone wild of pop – offers up two songs at crucial moments in the film. At the start of the film when the women decide to rob a diner in order to raise the funds to make it to spring break, the lines repeated are “just act like you’re in a video game or in a film” and indeed when the robbery takes place, the point of view is taken entirely from Cotty’s (Rachael Corrine) perspective in the getaway car, framing the event in the windows of the building as if it were on a television screen or a cinema screen.


The four women in the film are all swept away by “the moment” just as the women on Girls Gone Wild are swept away by the moment. When they each reach their breaking point, they phone their mothers and they promise to be good and they go home. Korine shows the girls on their journey’s home, serious faced, crying, reaching through glass for some sort of loss promise. There is no loss of innocence, because each feels they haven’t been in reality. There will be no consequences, because “they promise to be good” from now on. That is” the secret of happiness”, as one girl will say to her mother on the phone. Korine perfectly captures the complicated relationship raging within the young woman between responsibility and living in fear. The girls don’t want “reality”.  In reality, they have to be careful of every man they meet. In reality they might get pregnant. In reality cocaine-fucked strangers at a party might rape them. In reality they could get called a slut for showing their tits and being “bad girls”.  They want to leave reality behind and with that, consequences of actions. They want to be wild, without having to deal with the film they made the next day. Wild is only attractive when it has no risk. Or rather, when one escapes the risk.


The films question is, where does reality seep in?  Where do consequences start? When is it time to take responsibility, and did you really make a choice when you tried to escape that? Are the women vulnerable or not?

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These are just some of the many layers of ideas Harmony Korine has knitted into this fascinating, clever and funny film. Benoît Debie, Gasper Noe’s cinematographer and one of the visionaries behind Enter the Void comes in to give his touch on the film, and it elevates Spring Breakers well into art house status – but with pop appeal. This combined with a kick ass sound track and that psych colour infusion makes for one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

Spring Breakers 3