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The Independent Critic

James Franco, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Heather Morris, Rachel Korine, Vanessa Hudgens
Harmony Korine
Rated R
94 Mins.

  • Breaking it Down: Behind Spring Breakers – A Behind-the-Scenes 3-Part Documentary
    • Part 1 – Film Makers: Spring Breakers
    • Part 2 – Breaking Convention
    • Part 3 – Spring Breakers Forever
  • Deleted Scene/Outtakes
  • Harmony’s Ear Candy featurette – An Insightful Look at the Music of Spring Breakers
  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Harmony Korine
  • VICE featurettes - An Inside Look at the ATL Twins and Real Life Partying in Panama City Beach
  • Theatrical Trailer/TV Spots

 "Spring Breakers" May Be This Year's Film to Love or Hate 
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There's a reason that I love James Franco, a frustratingly inconsistent actor who has been occasionally godawful (Tristan & Isolde), occasionally brilliant (127 Hours) and quite often just plain bland (Oz: The Great and Powerful). There's no question that you're familiar with Franco, a handsome young actor who seemingly fails miserably every time Hollywood tries to turn him into the next romantic leading man but who has one of the most original and vibrant artistic voices when he's working on his own indie efforts through Rabbit Bandini Productions or when he finds himself in some other low-budget project.

In other words, James. Big budget = bad. Low budget = good.

Spring Breakers? Freakin' amazing.

Don't get me wrong. This may not be the film for you. It's on many levels vile, filthy, offensive, sexist and entertainingly cynical.

Have I mentioned freakin' amazing?

Admittedly, I do fancy myself a huge fan of Harmony Korine's films.

Yep, I even admit it.

Gummo? LOVED it.

Julien Donkey-Boy? Provocative and compelling.

Trash Humpers? I'll admit I struggled a bit.

But man, even when I don't quite get where Korine is going I love the guy's boldness of vision and willingness to approach film with a refusal to adhere to expectation, structure and tradition. The guy's films are so deep that it's sometimes hard to believe that he himself only recently turned 40-years-old.

After toiling around the fringes of Hollywood since 1997's Gummo, Korine finally finds himself working with a decently budgeted film getting a semblance of a national release thanks to distrib A24. The resulting film proves that some directors really do up the ante when you give them more money to work with and more options in terms of production values. Korine is unquestionably one of the indie world's more controversial directors, especially for American directors, because his films can come off as incoherent, uneven, narratively inconsistent and just plain strange. For my money, few indie directors have as compelling an artistic voice as Korine. Korine maintains his own artistic integrity while making, if you're actually paying attention, legit social commentary and deeply introspective films.

At various times, Spring Breakers reminded me of Natural Born Killers meets Godard meets Project X. In fairness to Korine, Spring Breakers isn't really like any of those films but the film is so different from what Hollywood usually gives us in the multiplexes that it's only fair to warn you that this is a film you're either going to really, really love or you're going to consider it a worthless piece of exploitative crap.

After watching Franco's charmless and smirky performance in Oz: The Great and Wonderful, I'd almost forgotten that with the right material and the right director he's one incredibly fine actor. If you loved Franco's stoner role in Pineapple Express, then you've at least got an idea of what to expect from his performance here. Franco is so charismatic and energized here that it's almost stunning to think that this is the say guy from Oz: The Great and Wonderful.

Franco plays a cornrowed rapper from St. Pete who goes by the name of Alien. Alien kinda sorta brings to mind Kid Rock, but with less authenticity and more B.S. bravado. Franco gives layers to Alien that don't really resonate until hours after watching the film when you're realizing how much everything you've seen and heard is still on your mind and you just plain can't forget Franco's remarkable performance as Alien. While his work here has virtually no chance of getting any major recognition, rest assured that with the possible exception of his Oscar-nominated turn in 127 Hours and his Emmy winning performance as James Dean this is no doubt one of Franco's best performances to date.

It's impossible to know how involved Korine was in casting, but it stands to reason that his was a dominating voice in the perversely brilliant decision to cast some squeaky clean faces to play young women who are anything but squeaky clean in Spring Breakers. The film really centers around this quartet of young college-age women - Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director's real life wife). The four play best friends since grade school who now lead boring lives in boring dorm rooms while longing to escape into something more exciting.

That something is spring break. St. Pete.

Faith is the film's good girl, an evangelical Christian with a bad side just crying to get out. She's hooked up with Candy and Brit, two less than good girls with seriously edgy sides. Cotty? She's the free spirit of the group.

All together? Combustible.

Early scenes in the film have an almost role-playing video game feel to them, especially when our quartet decides that the only way to actually get the money they need to head to St. Pete for spring break is to steal a car and rob a restaurant. It's this scene that most reminded me of the almost surreal nature of Natural Born Killers, but Stone's film felt more like bold artistry while Spring Breakers actually feels disturbingly real in a reality TV sort of way as Korine actually films the majority of the scene from outside the restaurant. It's only later on in the film that we get a glimpse of what it was actually like in the restaurant, a glimpse that makes the earlier fishbowl effect even more disturbing.

Yet, freakishly enough we're still entertained.

It's after the girls get arrested that Alien shows up to bail them out and the entire film becomes even more like a candy-coated universe where the candy is LSD. There were times, strangely enough, that Alien actually reminded me of a gangster Willy Wonka, a guy who could be eerily normal one moment then completely menacing the next.

We start off watching these actresses, the exception perhaps being the relatively unknown Rachel Korine, with a bit of baggage because we know that both Hudgens and Gomez are from the Disney universe and Benson is from ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars." This is baggage, but knowing the way Korine's mind works it's baggage intentionally brought because it allows us to experience these young women the way they are in the film. They start out as good girls with, perhaps, a few bad ideas that are unexpressed. By the film's end, they've changed and we've changed.

Or maybe they haven't really changed.

Maybe we don't change. Maybe nothing changes. Maybe there's always light with dark. Maybe there's always dark with light. Maybe these girls, who seem like they're fueled into amping up their rebellion by Alien, are actually the masterminds of destruction and mayhem.

Gomez has the most to work with here and she gives one of her best performances yet, including one scene that actually transcends anything we've ever believed her capable of doing. Gomez's Faith is haunting yet sympathetic, believable as both an evangelical Christian and as an almost bad girl. Hudgens and Benson have less to work with, yet both shine in a way that will make you think twice the next time you see some hot chick in a neon bikini.

Oh wait, that's never happened to you?

Rachel Korine does a fine job, as well, and down to even the smallest role this is a film that's just about perfectly cast from top to bottom. D.P. Benoit Debie lenses the film beautifully, somehow managing to capture the gloriously unique vision of Korine while never letting us go. The film's music is also top notch, yet another reminder that Korine has always infused his films with as many possible artistic expressions as he can in making his point.

Spring Breakers isn't for everyone. If you're hesitating, you might think twice. If you're not exactly an experimental moviegoer, then you may want to think twice.

But, let me tell you straight up. If you can let go of expectations, abandon any sense of the usual Hollywood mumbo jumbo and simply surrender yourself to a rather dark yet brilliantly entertaining view of the spring break experience with all its debauchery and excesses then you may very well find yourself treated to one of 2013's most unforgettable and artistically rewarding films.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic