Excess shoved into your mouth like a child refusing his vegetables in favor of the night’s dessert. This sentence sums up Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers.
The night began as I expected. The theater my buddy, Neal, and I would be attending was in the very back of our local Carmike. I knew it would be in the smallest theater. Those are typically reserved for the artsy. The low budget. The throwaways. We walked in. There were a few guys in the top corners and two girls with their feet on the support bars. Ten minutes later, the theater filled nearly to capacity with people who clearly only saw the poster. Maybe, they caught a trailer. They couldn’t have known this movie was made to mock them. To chastise them.
Loads of girls wore the sweatshirts and pants they usually put over their bathing suits before and after a tanning bed session. Many guys strolled in, popped collars; to no doubt see one of the four lead actresses naked. James Franco, of course, has his own natural pull. Hot off the heels of Oz, that pull was even stronger.
8:15 rolled around. The trailers began. You could feel the uneven nature of Korine’s film off the bat because the studios obviously didn’t know what crowd they were going to be marketing to. We got a trailer for Scary Movie 5 (which garnered no laughs), Danny Boyle’s Trance (going to be beautiful), The Host (Shoot me), Sophia Coppola’s The Bling Ring (Oh, Emma Watson), and Iron Man 3? It was obvious that no one had any idea who was coming to see this film.
The screen went dark. The film rolled (or whatever you say about digital projection…)
Without giving too much away, the movie plays to the unsuspecting casual crowd for its first twenty minutes. Boobs and butts of all kinds are thrust into your face to the tune of Skrillex in the background. If you are above the age of 18, you (like me) are laughing your head off at the ridiculous display. Get used to this sequence. It will be thrown at you three or so more times before film’s end. Each time it’s like Harmony Korine’s finger waving at you, saying “Do you like that? You sick son of a bitch!”
In between these shots, you see our four MCs at college trying to figure out how they are going to pay for their Spring Break trip. You have Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine), and their Christian friend Faith (Selena Gomez). When the former three feel the money they are getting from Faith is not enough to escape their boring lives and go on their trip, they decide to rob a local chicken shack restaurant. Now, laying it out like that makes it sound like a Kevin Smith comedy or something tailor made for Superbad. It ends up being a truly riveting couple of shots. The moral lines for these characters are erased quickly.
Some spoiler-y events later, the ladies find themselves in jail. Their bail is posted by a completely game James Franco: Alien (he pronounces it A-leen). Franco woke up the casual crowd with funny lines like “why ya’ll actin’ spicious,” “this shit is my shit”, and his silver teeth. I know he has talent, but I’ve never seen him so committed to a role. Alien opens the girls to a world in Florida beyond their petty Spring Break excess (guns, money, heroine, hookers. Normal stuff.) The reaction it gets from Gomez’ Faith was enough to convince me that we might get some good performances from her later down the line when she grows out of her sixteen-year-old looking frame. I know she is twenty-one, but that didn’t stop me from feeling uncomfortable watching her partake in the action.
The other three actresses were ready to do some bad. Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens literally steal the show. They are the first characters we are introduced to and they leave the biggest impression by the end. For many reasons, I knew I was going to get the most out of the film when they were on screen. Vanessa did the best job proving to us that she was ready to shed her Disney image (although, that died when she got in front of Zack Snyder’s lens).
I hate giving spoilers away so I won’t delve too deeply into the story. The main focus of me wanting to document my experience was the combination of the art house crowd with the casual crowd. It’s an event I only get to witness when Tarantino pumps out another film. Many filmgoers left our screening with the words “What the fuck did I just watch?” I have to admit the message of the film is hard to decipher by the final reel. One thing I can say: this film will be imprinted on my brain (inserts Franco’s character) “fo-eva.”
Go see this movie. There is nothing like it. Nothing.
Thomas William Shaw is an author and stage actor from Birmingham, AL. He lives with his wife, Lauren, their children, and their cats in a quiet place. Occasionally he will post about it.