When you hear the term ‘Spring Break’ what do you think of? Sun? Sea? Swimwear and spirits? I personally envisage an American version of the BBC3 show Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents (minus the parents, with darker tans and whiter teeth). However, Spring Breakers takes things much further than the drunken antics of us Brits, exploring what happens when spring break is over, and all but a few students have returned to their studies, leaving those determined to live the life of a ‘Spring Breaker’ forever.
Spring Breakers follows four young college students determined to break free of their mundane routine, and willing to do anything to achieve this, and I do mean anything. In order to get to Spring Break, they are willing to rob a diner, simply to pay for their frivolities. An experience which they later choose to re-live, both through role-play, and replication.
The sudden violence of this scene took me by surprise, as the girls are seen smashing tables and cash registers with a mallet, and holding hostages at gunpoint whilst ransacking the diner. It brings into question the argument of whether violent video games really do influence our behaviour, as we hear the line “Pretend like it’s a video game…” repeated over and over, both on the journey up to this attack, and whilst later reliving the experience, as they laugh and joke about it. But it’s not for me to judge. However, this blatant disregard for the repercussions of their actions exhibited by the girls, at this early stage, sets the context for what dangerous situations they find themselves in later in the film.
There are plenty of the usual party scenes expected of a film about a spring break, such as pool scenes, beach concerts, and drug-fuelled parties. But the real story does not begin until the girls are arrested for an illegal rave, and are bailed out by the sickly sweet Alien (James Franco). Using the pretence that he just wants to spend some time with the girls in return for their freedom, he slowly reveals his world of gangs and gun crime, and how it allows him to live the so called ‘American Dream’, a life far from anything the girls know back at college. A life of rebellion, where anything you could want is in your grasp if you simply take it. The temptation of this kind of freedom and lifestyle, along with Alien’s careful grooming of the girls, keeps most of them from returning to college, and soon Alien is able to coax them into doing just about anything he wants them to.
The film grows darker, and darker, the deeper the girls are dragged into Alien’s world. It goes from bikini clad beauties and muscular Adonis’s, to three little girls, well out of their depth, wielding knifes and guns in a uniform of bikinis and shocking pink balaclavas, killing strangers with no motivation other than a chance to “see something different”.
We watch as the boisterous characters created by the girls become all consuming, making them believe they are unstoppable. Invincible even. And it is not until they have to face up to Alien’s rival gang, led by Gucci Mane, that the reality of this new way of life, and the repercussions of their violent actions hit them, hard, resulting in a final scene which exhibits the kind of violence which would not seem so out of place in a Martin Scorsese title.
It is impossible not to return – perennially- back to the youth and naivety of the characters. With such a young and up and coming, all star cast, Spring Breakers could be considered a ‘coming of age film’, both for the characters, and indeed, a number of the young stars. In witnessing the characters being forced to change and grow up as they are thrust into unfamiliar surroundings, so we see the young starlets experience the same.
This is the first feature film where we see both Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez turning their backs on the clean cut Disney princess characters they so often portray, in exchange for darker, more rebellious roles, and, indeed, successfully proving that they can be more than just the girls next door. As for Rachel Korine and Ashley Benson, this could well be their breakthrough roles. Both exude charisma, and ooze sex appeal throughout, precisely what anyone in the new, young Hollywood needs to kick-start their career.
And then of course there is Franco, who uses this role to remind us just how versatile an actor he can be, as he effectively breaths life into the character of Alien. A character with all the money and worldly knowledge of a gentleman, albeit with a ‘gangsta’ twist. A Lolita style Humbert for the twenty-first century.
In my opinion, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers will be well received overall, due in part to the big name stars in the cast, and the high profile collaborations from the music industry, including the likes of Gucci Mane and Skrillex.
Sadly their will be a tendency from some to overlook Spring Breakers believing that some of the young actors will be unable to carry off such diverse roles. And to them I say, you should try everything once. Allow these actors to explore their range, and go and watch a film you may normally avoid. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Spring Breakers hits UK cinemas on April 5th.