There's a standing piece of advice I offer to anyone who asks me about a forthcoming movie that features a particular actor: Unless that actor is Tom Cruise, the person you need to know about isn't the lead; it's the director. A film is ultimately the result of the director's vision, and with that in mind, I suspect there will be a lot of bros who come out of the theater wondering what the fuck they spent their $12 on.
Sure, it's a crime thriller about hot girls going on spring break, complete with plenty of guns and nipples. But, most of all, Spring Breakers is a film by Harmony Korine, the enfant terrible of American filmmakers. And despite the intentionally exploitative camera work, the gun porn, the drinking, the blow and the preponderance of topless, bronzed coeds, Spring Breakers is an art film—one that seeks to explore and possibly break (the title is just one of the film's double-meanings) down the segment of our culture so prodigiously documented by such venerable organizations as Girls Gone Wild.
Korine's never been afraid to push buttons or envelopes. This is the guy who wrote Kids and directed Julien Donkey-Boy and Trash Humpers. Spring Breakers is by far his most mainstream effort to date, but despite outward appearances, it's not really mainstream at all. There's a character in the film who says that spring break is essentially the American dream for college kids, and he's not far off, because the mythology of spring break is that you have no responsibilities, you can do anything you want and there are virtually no consequences. But that's just the dream, of course—there are always consequences, as the four women in Spring Breakers learn.
There's Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director's wife) and Faith (Selena Gomez), the sheltered, religious member of the quartet. The casting of these Disney starlets is significant, certainly, because each is using this movie to transition from teen stardom to adulthood. We know them as being innocent and, for the most part, chaste, which is exactly what young, innocent girls toss out the window when they go on spring break. When the film starts, they're stuck at college, bored out of their minds, desperate to head to Florida with the rest of the world, to cut loose and have a meaningful experience.
Wait, a meaningful experience on spring break? Ah, yes, that gets to the heart of what Korine's trying to say. These girls, Faith excepted, are so desperate to add both good times and meaning to their lives that they actually rob a restaurant, terrifying the patrons as they relieve them of their wallets. It's a crazy thing to do, but where they're headed is crazy, too; lots of blow and booze later, they end up arrested and in need of a savior. He comes in the form of Alien, played by a silver-toothed James Franco, a local rapper and gangster who takes them under his seamy, corrupt wing.
I wish the girls personalities didn't fade into the background once Alien sorts out that these Earth girls are easy—I think that's the film's biggest problem. That said, Korine finds meaning for the young women, and for Alien, who, after one very strange sexual situation, tells the other participants that they're his "motherfucking soulmates." The thing is, he means it.
And that's Korine's point: It can be debauched and meaningful. The bare-breasted women flipping off the camera while being doused in beer by horny guys are having the greatest time of their lives. These four nubile young things have a life-altering experience, even though it ends with sex and guns and violence. Korine makes you uncomfortable while they have it, as his camera lingers over his bikini-clad stars like an old man in a peep show. He wants you to judge him. He wants you to judge his characters. And then he wants you to think about why you're judging.