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With: James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine
Written by: Harmony Korine
Directed by: Harmony Korine
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout
Running Time: 94
Date: 21/03/2013

Spring Breakers (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Breaking' the Rules

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

During my brief visit to Cannes in 2012, a poster for Spring Breakers caught my eye. It was a very simple image of four young women in bikinis (I'm a red-blooded American male, after all.) But then the name "Harmony Korine" caught my eye, and I became intrigued. What could Korine be up to with this?

A year later, Spring Breakers finally arrives in U.S. theaters. It has a plotline that doesn't sound too out of place in a long history of exploitation films. Four college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine) rob a restaurant to raise money to travel to Florida for Spring Break. Once there, they're arrested at a party and subsequently bailed out by a sinister drug and arms dealer, who calls himself "Alien" (James Franco).

From there, things don't quite go as you might expect. In fact, the entire movie itself doesn't quite go as you'd expect. Korine has said that he designed the film with what he calls "liquid narrative." This nicely describes the film's look and feel. Disconnected moments from the past and the future pop up during other sequences, and audio tracks from earlier and later sequences will play at any time. These things are also flexible, as they sometimes play slightly differently, as if remembered differently at different points in time.

This approach makes Spring Breakers enticingly hard to define. It's not exactly an exploitation film, and it's not exactly an art film, but it's also both at the same time. It's the type of experience that blows your mind but convinces you that nobody else on the planet is going to "get" it.

The movie is full of fascinating themes to unpack. Aside from the issue of time and memory, the girls themselves are a paradox. According to Korine, they represent four parts of a whole. For example, the wholesome teen singer and actress Selena Gomez plays "Faith," the religious member of the group, who is seen at prayer meetings and does not actually participate in the robbery. At some point, Faith grows uncomfortable with the situation in Florida and leaves, catching a bus home, never to return. It's quite literally a "loss of faith."

I should probably mention that, despite the appearance of these known teen idols, Spring Breakers is not a movie for kids. It begins with an MTV-style shot of college teens partying on the beach. For a few seconds, it looks like fun, and then it begins to look more and more disturbingly animal and crude. It's highly uncomfortable to watch.

However, Franco provides his own kind of energy with his awesome, jaw-droppingly over-the-top performance as "Alien," who performs in a rap group, wears tons of precious metals in his teeth, and plays Britney Spears songs on piano. He's mesmerizing, and dangerous, and the only reasonable response to him is shock... or laughter. (Franco received an Oscar nomination for 127 Hours, but he deserves something more for this.)

Overall, I find that Spring Breakers satisfies on so many levels. It's Korine's most accessible movie, and yet it's absolutely true to his unique, unsettling vision. It's joyous and sad at the same time. It's many things at the same time; it straddles so many dualities, intellectual, emotional, and physical, that viewers and scholars could continue to consider and dissect it well into the future. Paradoxically, it's also an essential movie of the moment.

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