Sex-crazed drug-fuelled gun-toting babes in bikinis

Spring Breakers is a perfect, knowingly trashy film for a generation that thinks ridiculous is a compliment.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

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Springing onto the scene at the tender age of 18 by penning Larry Clark’s divisive state-of-the-youth drama Kids, Harmony Korine emerged as Generation X’s filmmaking wunderkind. His proceeding multi-hyphenate career as writer-director-cum-novelist-painter carved him out as one of that generation’s most prominent voices, searching for meaning in the MTV-spellbound, artistic and moral miasma of the late 1990s.

Gummo, still held in high regard by greasy-haired stalwarts, went in search of the marginal, the ugly and the sinister. It was released in 1997, the same year as Titanic, and seemed knowingly to oppose all that big-budget behemoth represented. In place of banal, sentimental arcs, he offered a collage of fractured vignettes, and rather than taking his pick of the hunky, centre-parted dreamboats du jour, he scouted his male lead from a chatshow segment on white trash paint-sniffers.

What then are we to make of Spring Breakers, a film positively mired in the sort of puerile pop culture he once so decried?

Disney Channel princesses Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez are cast alongside teen-drama star Ashley Benson and Korine’s wife Rachel, as four thrill-starved undergraduates who knock over a diner in order to fund their debauched spring-break vacation. It’s an odyssey of sex, drugs and dubstep, unfurling in a candy-coloured haze. Blunts are burned, handguns are felated, and lingering crotch shots abound of the four nubile characters, each seemingly named after strippers and never out of their skimpy bikinis.

Has the angry young man become a dirty – and money-grubbing – old one, willing to cash in on a decadent youth culture and give horny teenage lads ringside seats to these starlets’ attempt at breaking their squeaky-clean typecast? Perhaps. Spring Breakers has already made more at the box office than all of his other features combined. But there’s something enticing – enthralling even – about this movie that goes beyond the lascivious.

Korine sews video-game hyper-violence, thug materialism and synthetic dance music into a plot that unfurls with the logic of a high-end music video – all melodrama and glistening torsos. Facing jail after being caught with cocaine at a party, the girls are bailed by Riff Raff-resembling gangster Alien (James Franco). This braided, gold-toothed mystic – wont to rhapsodise on his ill-gotten gains and declare himself the American dream incarnate – brings the girls into his operation, conscripting them as his concubines and soldiers in a gang war against an old rival who’s out for his blood.

In part, it’s a send-up of suburban America’s worst, child-rearing anxieties. A world in which good girls go bad, burst into fits of video game-inspired violence and shirk Bible study (in the case of Gomez’s erstwhile goody-goody, Faith) and instead find quasi-spiritual fulfilment in cocaine and casual sex. However, this is no satire; that would suggest that Spring Breakers has at least one stiletto heel in reality. Indeed, it’s superficial by design, but no less thrilling for it: a woozy symphony of trash, intertwining Skrillex-accompanied scenes of hedonism with a lurid yet expressive cinematography in which pink and yellow sunsets light-up the screen like a dayglo take on the vistas of Days of Heaven.

Korine repackages the absurdities of popular culture into something evocative, funny and strangely beautiful. In one standout scene, Alien sits at his poolside white grand piano and performs Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime’ for his gun-toting, pink balaclava-wearing ladies. Soon it melts away into the original, accompanying a montage of their slow-mo exploits; the girls pistol-whipping assailants, Franco shaking his braids maniacally.

Embraced by the hipster community and much-trumpeted by its irreverent bible, Vice, Spring Breakers taps into something at the heart of modern ‘counterculture’. Generation Y has proved willing to embrace the vapid and the throwaway, as long as it can crack an ironic smile. This is a time in which the word ‘ridiculous’, when coming from a twentysomething, will nine times out of ten be intended as a compliment, and club nights in London’s trendily down-at-heel district of Dalston devoted to the putrid pop tunes of past and present have begun to rival the standard, po-faced, genre-bending contingent.

Referential, superficial, crass and fiendishly entertaining, this is a film very much of its moment and Korine proves he still has his finger very much on the pulse.

Tom Slater is spiked’s film reviewer. Visit his blog here.

See the trailer for Spring Breakers here:

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