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Yeah, I don’t think people knew what they were getting themselves into with this one.

First of all, Spring Breakers is genius. This is the first but hopefully not last holy fucking shit movie of 2013. It is going to hugely divide people because many will expect something sillier, more trite, and way less weird. There have been comparisons to Malick’s films, and these are somewhat apt. Harmony Korine is known for being something of a cinematic anarchist, but I’ve never seen his other films (I will now, though). With Spring Breakers, it is basically like he wants to say “fuck you” to Michael Bay and Terence Malick while also caressing them lovingly.

With it’s haunting, repetitive refrains, the Skrillex score, and constantly rotating shots of naked chicks, blunt smoke, and all the candied, metallic surfaces of a dystopia happening just around the corner, it seems like Spring Breakers may be trying to say something to and about contemporary youth culture. This is supposed to be Korine’s schtick, the well-known Kids being one of the more commonly seen of his films. I’m not sure that Korine specifically wants to say anything, though. This feels like the work of an observer, first and foremost, someone who revels in the chaos and insanity more than needing to hold it up to say “hey look, America… this is you!”.

That said, there is something uniquely American about this film. I think a lot of viewers will be turned off by that, unable to comprehend the hedonism and recklessness of the culture on display. It is a film to make our elders shift in their seats and look around uncomfortably, as if everyone under the age of thirty might snort coke off a pair of tits, flash a submachine gun, or crack a metal grin at any moment. This is a movie I barely understand in a generational sense, and I’m only twenty-six. Fuck man, it makes me nervous about young people.

And I think that’s exactly what Korine wants.

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The movie constantly returns to rap video style shots of spring break revelers… maybe it is trying to say something.

This movie principally concerns itself with the adventures of four very insane girls. They are almost interchangeable for a lot of the running time, but two among them are particularly important. They are played by young actresses like Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens and it’s a bit of a coup to get people like that for a movie like this. I doubt people who see this as part of Gomez’s fanbase, for example, are really going to know what to do with this movie.

Gomez plays Faith, who is incidentally one of those born-again types. I don’t know if it’s a put on (the movie gives us reason to believe either way) but it does distinguish her from the other girls. Like a chrysalis, the film sheds the more reasonable characters as it goes. The first is Faith who, like her friends, wants to shake up the drudgery of her life and turn it into something magical and lasting. Hence, their big spring break exodus which only comes after the other three rob a restaurant in the first burst of what becomes a trademark nihilism for Spring Breakers and its characters.

There’s a purity and a stupidity to their goal. It’s like a quest to them and they’re ruthlessly determined to do whatever it takes to get to St. Petersberg, Florida to conduct the ritual of absolute hedonism that is the MTV reality of American spring break. If we forget that even for a second, Korine reminds us with all the flesh, booze, and aimless “celebration” our eyes can handle.

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Faith is the one least comfortable with the robbery, with her friends’ growing sense of disconnect with anything resembling consequence or the law of the land, and is therefore the first to fold.

They enjoy their partying for  while but are eventually arrested for drug use or something. Seeing them in the courtroom, cuz he’s there to bail out two of his own guys (the creepy Twins), Alien (James Franco) decides to bail the girls out on a whim. At first it seems like he just wants to party with them. His sleazy charm and unlikely-seeming edge quickly inure most of the girls to him. It seems he is exactly the adventure they are looking for. The ultimate escape. All but Faith anyway, who leaves almost as soon as they meet Alien.

Alien is an incredible character. Franco is the kind of actor no one ever expects this shit from. He’s like a T-Pain evolution of Gary Oldman’s Drexel (from True Romance which… see it!). Buried under idiotic tattoos, a comical gangster patois, and the ubiquitous grill-mouth, Franco has an absolute blast with the role. However, that unlikely edge is never far from the surface. We never really know who Alien is, he just is (until he isn’t) and the film is not interested in judging him, or anyone else really. Imagine Spring Breakers, the filmic entity, as a sandbox in which Alien is simply a self-styled king of the most piss-covered corner. He knows this and he loves this.

Part Cribs parody and part callback to the idiotic regard for the satirically intended Scarface, Alien’s whole deal is just stunning to behold. He has an extended monologue where he regales the remaining three girls (Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, and Vanessa Hudgens) with his gangsta steez. He has shorts in every color, numchuks, machine guns, and a bed that is basically a piece of modern art. It’s like he’s listing off the evolution of the shallow materialism that sophisticates assign to the “dolla dolla bill” essentialism of gangster rap culture. We laugh at the petty ambitions of a man like Alien, who makes more money than the average white college grad will ever see slinging drugs with a couple of hillbilly friends.

He laughs right back.

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Unpacking this character is like taking drugs from him.

What Alien didn’t bargain for is the vicious misanthropy (or so it seems) of his new proteges. He takes the girls under his wing, shows them a good time, but eventually gets shown up. For all his guns and knives and posturing, Alien is not especially dangerous to anyone but himself. He has a rival, Archie (rapper Gucci Mane) who has a ridiculous obsession with ice cream cones. As things come to a head with Archie, we get all the gangland chest-thumping we’d be likely to see in a low-rent 50 Cent biography. Archie, ultimately, is probably much the same as Alien but he definitely draws first blood.

Cotty (Rachel Korine) gets winged in a warning driveby (yeah, that’s a thing I guess) and bails. Cotty was the getaway driver during the heist that got them to the resort town they think has saved their souls. But now, the game is over and she’s on the bus same as Faith. In fact, there’s a point being made by showing a reflection of those same “Faith goes home” scenes with Cotty this time. It’s like Korine is allowing for the fact that only a certain type of insane is capable of thriving in Alien’s world. In a film that is about the kind of random, absurd escapism that seems to underline all the manufactured types we young people take for granted, it’s more than clever that these kids get scared and balk at different levels of intensity. For Faith it was Alien’s rapey interest in them, and the dirty reality of his trashy gangland lifestyle. For Cotty, it literally takes being bitten by the violence that she, along with Brit and Candy, only played at before.

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It’s like if Mike Judge made art movies.

In one the film’s trademark absurdist-genius sequences, the three girls who have become Alien’s enforcers, sit out on his patio with him singing a Britney Spears song, dancing around, in the attire pictured above. This is just like “what the fuck am I watching?” territory and in the best possible way. Coupled with the Kimbo Slice clips and snatches of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic which the girls indulge at various points in the film, it adds to the already mad reflection of idiosyncratic slices of pop culture. I don’t know what this shit is supposed to all have in common, but there seems to be a vague sense of emptiness and absurdity running through these touchstones as well as the passive way they are engaged with by the characters. All except the Britney number, somehow, where the moment flirts with being touching or sweet in some ephemeral way.

Alien eventually comes to understand what he’s found in these last two girls, after Cotty takes off. Brit and Candy are not like their friends. They are sociopaths, true blue, and utterly disconnected from anything resembling a normative mode. They tell the other two “pretend it’s a fucking video game” and “don’t be afraid, get hard” and it’s like they don’t need this themselves, because they are already there. Interestingly, they never hurt other women. In some ways, I can see them playing as twisted angels of anarchistic female-first militancy. They shed the men in the film much the same way that the film itself sheds any vestiges of normalcy or plot. By the time Alien leads them into battle against Archie, a revenge gesture for Cotty’s wound, the movie has entirely moved past any semblance of realism and gone totally, unrepentantly for the surreal.

Together, Brit and Candy gun down every single one of a small army of Archie’s thugs. Finally, they kill him. They do all this in bikinis and pink balaclavas. It’s an intense, awe-inspiring sequence and you keep expecting them to get shot down because how can they not. They never do. They are forces of nature, things apart, and are as removed from judgment as anything else in the movie. It’s like a microcosm of a cultural tearing, or even snapping, that comes at the end of absurdity, self-indulgence, and disconnect. I watched that sequence and I thought about school shootings.

All the dead bodies are intercut later with those familiar scenes of spring break partying. Of course they are.

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Whatever else people remember of this, I would bet on a big one being James Franco giving blowjobs to handguns.

I don’t really know how to define a movie like this. Part of it seems like a fairy tale as told by a psychopath, and I’m sure Korine wouldn’t mind that description at all. At other times, it seems like a work of extreme satire and parody, a mockery and doom-soothe for our times. I definitely think this is the kind of artifact that makes older people shake their heads in fear and wonder at the way things have degraded since “their day”. And maybe they have. I definitely walked out of Spring Breakers convinced that my generation is a write-off. Hearing the comments of people around my age or a little younger as they walked out, people who didn’t even bother to check and see what they were walking into, only confirmed this further.

Spring Breakers is the kind of bizarre, once obscure film that I sought out in my high school days when I was first discovering the films that got made outside or alongside the Hollywood system. That this went into wide release is probably owed largely to the cast and it is an amazing thing in itself. I can’t tell you what a bizarre feeling it is going from Oz the Great and Powerful‘s more familiar James Franco to this version, a version I appreciate far more while remaining a little unsettled by.

And that’s a good word for how this movie will probably leave you: unsettled. But it isn’t that simple. There’s a beauty here, an aesthetic consistency that plays on the more intuitive parts of the brain. Harmony Korine recently did a reddit AMA (ask me anything) wherein he said “there is beauty in all shit”. It was a characteristic-seeming non-sequitor of an answer but I could not get it out of my head when I was watching Spring Breakers. I still can’t, thinking on the movie now.

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In spite of everything else, the friendship between these girls feels very genuine. Even as some leave, there’s no recrimination or drama just serene and loving acceptance. And goodbyes.

I have to hesitate to actually recommend this movie. It’s definitely one where I would want people to do their homework first, starting with checking out a few reviews and that insane, attractive trailer. For some, this movie will just bounce off as vulgar and bizarre, but for many it will have a far more pronounced effect. I expect to get into some hairy arguments about this one once some of my friends have seen it. If they see it. Honestly, there’s a few who I almost hope won’t bother.

That all said, if you read this and it all sounds interesting or awesome, do yourself a favor and see Spring Breakers. I can at least guarantee with a fair amount of confidence that you’ve never seen anything else quite like it.

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