Capturing an altered expression of modern popular culture that’s so pushed to an altered extreme that it shows both the attractive and distorted problems of society is the daring signature of writer-director Harmony Korine. The filmmaker once again exposes the darkness of young adults in his new comedy-crime-drama ‘Spring Breakers,’ which opens in select New York theaters on Friday. While his previous work, Korine’s new movie fuses the attractiveness and darkness of pop culture, mixing the carefree lifestyle of college students with their belief that their actions don’t have consequences. Despite a few key standout performances and visually captivating cinematography, the director’s newest film unfortunately relied too heavily on grotesque images and plot points to truly reinforce how much popular media can deteriorate people’s humanity.
‘Spring Breakers’ follows four lifelong best friends-Brit (Ashley Benson), Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine)-who are anxious to leave their boring college existences and have fun on their own spring break adventure. While at first the four are deterred that they don’t have enough money to travel to St. Petersburg, Brit, Candy and Cotty decide to rob a local restaurant for the quick cash they need. Upon arriving in Florida, the four friends have the party of a lifetime, until they’re arrested during a hotel party. They’re quickly bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a local rapper, drug pusher and arms dealer, who lures them into the criminal underworld that’s liberating for the college girls who are still trying to find their paths in life.
Korine, who usually casts unknown and non-professional actors in his films, assembled a diverse, intriguing set of established and well-known actors for the coming-of-age comedy-crime-drama. The most gratifyingly cast star is Franco, who has been a fan of the scribe-helmer’s work since he co-penned the acclaimed 1995 crime drama ‘Kids,’ and has discussed working with the filmmaker for several years. The actor humanized the seemingly tough gangster who Korine wrote specifically for him, while also intricately balancing Alien outside the mainstream stereotypes of a rapper and drug dealer.
While Alien strived to keep up a tough persona to maintain respect among his targeted audience and fellow drug and arms dealers, he also remains mysterious by truly caring for the four girls. At times, Franco briefly showcases Alien’s vulnerability, such as when Cotty is shot in the arm by one of his rival drug dealers, emphasizing how living a rich lifestyle isn’t as flashy and attractive as pop culture perceives it to be.
Gomez’s casting as Faith was the most shocking out of the four main girls, after appearing in such family-friendly films as ‘Monte Carlo,’ ‘Ramona and Beezus’ and ‘Another Cinderella Story,’ as well as the Disney Channel series ‘Wizards of Waverly Place.’ But her touching portrayal of Faith realistically represented the moral voice of reason among the four friends during their drug and alcohol-fueled wild vacation, despite the fact that she initially agreed they all needed to get away from their school troubles. While Faith questions her religious beliefs and convictions during her prayer group in the beginning of the film, and sees spring break as a way to discover her true place in life, Gomez drastically matured the character after the girls’ arrests and having their bail paid by Alien.
The girls’ altered sense of reality and loosening of their morals was creatively highlighted by the innovative lighting created by cinematographer Benoît Debie. By shooting entirely on celluloid film, Debie enhanced the glowing and hyper-saturated color palette of St. Petersburg, particularly through sunsets and neon lights, in order to glamorize the continued parties Brit, Faith, Candy and Cotty attended. Due to the quick shooting schedule of the film, the cinematographer sought out locations that were already lit, which added to the grittiness of the story. Between the vibrantly lit nightclubs Alien brought the girls to and the gritty, natural sunlight used when the girls where partying on the beach during the day, Debie’s diverse lighting truly reflected the varied states of mind the four friends were experiencing in each scene.
After Korine created controversy when he chronicled unrestrained teen behavior towards sex and substance abuse during the era of HIV in the mid-1990s in ‘Kids,’ he tried to once again chronicle the glamorization of drugs, violence and sex by the current young adult generation with ‘Spring Breakers.’ While the young characters in ‘Kids’ reflected on the consequences of their actions and mistakes, most of the characters in ‘Spring Breakers,’ with the exception of Faith, didn’t truly reflect on the error of their ways. Brit, Candy and Cotty are so intrigued and content with the money they stole and the materialistic and flashy lifestyle that Alien offers them, which is idealized by popular culture, that they’re never judged for their actions. The three girls are the prime example of how popular culture can dull humanity so much that they no longer have empathy for those around them, and they don’t understand the magnitude of their actions.
Korine assembled a diverse, intriguing set of established and well-known actors for his latest coming-of-age comedy-crime-drama. The well-cast Franco and Gomez authentically showcased their respective characters’ vulnerability and differing motivations, rivaling Alien’s need for adrenaline and danger against Faith’s rediscovering of her religion and morals. Alien’s influence on the girls, and their altered sense of reality during their vacation, was creatively highlighted by the innovative lighting created by Debie, who aimed to use as much natural light as possible to capture the authenticity of their experiences. However, the writer-director unfortunately wasn’t able to recapture the same developed plot structure and characters in ‘Spring Breakers’ as in his previously well-known film ‘Kids,’ and instead featured selfish characters who don’t always recognize the errors of their ways.