By Laurie Coker
From 1973 to 1986, every year (yes, starting in high school), my friends and I traveled to South Padre Island (only 100 miles from home) for spring break. I know firsthand and all too well, having held many a head over the toilet, the decadence and pandemonium typical of this long-running party adventure. My friends and I all survived our youth, but others from other places did not. Falling from balconies, being hit by vehicles, drowning in Gulf, ending up in the ER for various overdoses and injuries and other nightmare events took the youth and life from some. Honestly, as an adult, I see the break as a parent’s worst fear. Harmony Korine directs Spring Breakers, a SXSW film, starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens and Rachel Korine (the director’s wife), a film filled with debauchery and madness.
Spring Breakers tells the tale of four college friends good girl Faith (Gomez), Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson) and Cotty (Korine), who head to Florida, but only because Candy, Brit and Cotty rob a diner to get money for the trip. There they party wild and wind up in jail, where they are bailed out by a drug dealer named Alien. Almost immediately, Faith figures out that Alien and his lifestyle are a terrible idea and she heads home. The other girls continue on what feels like a year-long party (although I am sure it is mere weeks), foregoing school and sense to continue the high they apparently get from being bad. Eventually Cotty bails, too, but Brit and Candy take their bad girl extremes into a rival dealers house where a shoot out results in countless deaths and over all mayhem.
While some aspects of Korine’s film ring true, he takes a far darker, wilder and sicker view of the spring break party tradition. He told SXSW audience that a great deal of his images came from actual spring break footage – something I am certain is true. He does, however, go way over the top with the behavior and situations, and if even one small part of what these girls due is true, I feel fearful and sad.
I suppose what makes me even more distressed is the fact that these beautiful young actresses feel the need to dive this low in terms of story to prove they are all grown up. Gomez in a Q&A after the film implied that she needed something like this to show her range, but I disagree. Yes, they all do an incredible job portraying their characters, Gomez thankfully sticks pretty close squeaky clean (at least compared to the other three), and the Hudgens, Benson and Korine do nasty, partying, and disgusting well, but why? Why can’t growing up mean making better choices? Is there not a maturity in playing decent, multidimensional characters? I can’t imagine Meryl Streep, Helen Mirran, Helen Hunt or Judi Dench making this kind of choice.
Even Franco is great as the twisted, messed up drug dealer who has an apartment full of weapons and what he proudly calls his “s%#$,” but he too could choose more reputable roles demonstrate his acting chops, like he has before. Korine might have meant to offer a satire, but instead we a privy to a mishmash of depravity and degradation. I can’t help but wonder if under another director with a clear grasp on satire this might have been a better film. Target audiences might take away all the wrong messages under Korine’s hand and that is even more distressing.
While I admire the acting, I can’t stand behind a film that offers so very little in quality story or filmmaking. Maybe it is because of my age or the fact that I am a parent and grandparent, but I cannot endorse a film with zero moral value. Perhaps kudos should be given to Gomez and her character for exiting early. I wish I had. I am placing a D+ in my grade book. It might be lower had I not appreciated the cast, even if I disagree with them ever choosing to appear in such an immoral film.