Like a prayer – Spring Breakers review


By Simon Miraudo
May 1, 2013

Feel like getting a little freaky, but still concerned about your spiritual well-being? Don’t stress: most major religions have a loop-hole for you to exploit. Naughtiness is almost expected in their ranks, if not explicitly encouraged. Amish adolescents get to enjoy ‘Rumspringa,’ a fully sanctioned period during which time they can indulge in such sinful acts as drinking, drugging, or driving motor cars. Catholics go one better, classifying every one of their constituents as “sinners” from birth and forgiving them a lifetime of transgressions, so long as they can squeeze in a literal Hail Mary atonement on their death bed. There seems to be institutionalised immorality ingrained in even the most puritanical of organisations. However, there’s no such thing as a free ride, least of all to an eternity of peace and chocolate in the great beyond. Amish teens who never want ‘Rumspringa’ to end are ex-communicated from their families. And maybe you’ve heard of the toasty location reserved for unapologetic Christians in the afterlife. Yet writer-director Harmony Korine is called the hypocrite…

The enfant terrible of arthouse cinema follows up cult classics Gummo, Julien-Donkey Boy, and Trash Humpers with Spring Breakersin which a quartet of nubile young women break bad in Florida. Selena Gomez stars as Faith, a born again Christian who has grown tired of her local surroundings and is desperate to have some fun in the sun with her three BFFs, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine). Strapped for cash, they orchestrate a hold-up of a local restaurant to bolster their holiday fund. Leaving Faith out of the loop, the remaining trio – in a fantastic, single take tracking shot – viciously snatch the loot, and set a course for Spring Break. Faith’s a little concerned about the moral implications of their crime; the marijuana haze and pool parties ease her concerns. When they’re all arrested for drug possession in Florida, local rapper/gangster Alien (James Franco, like a crunked Jay Gatsby, or Kid Rock by way of Willy Wonka) bails them out, with the understanding they’ll join his harem as a thank you. Once again, Faith’s moral compass points in the other direction. Her gal pals, meanwhile, are hypnotised by Alien’s, ahem, charms.


A satire of the grotesque rite-of-passage known as Spring Break, the message may be lost on those who only came for the bountiful breasts and booties. “What message?” they – like the countless teens who were fooled by the presence of former child stars Gomez and Hudgens into witnessing this bizarre, sweat-and-vodka drenched nightmare – might ask. Korine’s biting commentary takes America’s puritanical culture to task for its double standards, particularly its habit of allowing a little sinning so long as it’s immediately followed by a lot of sorry (we could go back and forth as to which aspect he’s specifically criticising, however: the sinning or the sorry). Each girl is taken to the breaking point of their decency; once they hit their limit, they make their exit from the feature and pledge a lifetime of goodness from here on out, no matter how debauched they got. This is the ethos of religion taken to its logical conclusion. And hey, there’s no better stand-in for Hell itself than the state of Florida.

Korine doesn’t play God, though; judging the girls’ increasingly immoral actions and asking us to classify them on the scale of ‘good’ to ‘bad’ to ‘get thee to a nunnery!’ He lets them run rampant with unabashed delight. If anything, the real villain is the setting itself; not just ‘Spring Break’ but America – or Western Civilisation – at large. I think of the lecherous boys in the background who leer at Faith, Candy, Brit, and Cotty, plying them with liquor. That disgusting date-rape culture is practically factored into the teen experience; accepted as a given, and thus, forgiven and forgotten. I was reminded of CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville rape trial, in which the reporters sympathised with 16-year-old Ma’Lik Richmond and 17-year-old Trent Mays, whose “promising futures” had been ruined by a guilty verdict. Little mention was made of their victim. For the kids in Spring Breakers, the concepts of right and wrong are askew. The fault lies not with Harmony Korine, but the schizophrenic nation –  deeply religious, yet increasingly depraved – from which they hail.


Maybe there is no message. Considering the oblique and impenetrable nature of Korine’s earlier works, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn he was merely trying to play a joke on that aforementioned audience enticed by the promise of a sexy, bloody, exploitation flick. Even if this was made with unsavoury intentions, as a pop art collage wherein Disney princesses force Oz the Great and Powerful himself to perform fellatio on their AK-47s, it remains a pretty startling piece (see also: the parking lot performance of Britney Spears’ ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ as well as the violent montage set to her mournful ‘Everytime’). Shot by Benoît Debie (of Irreversible and Enter the Void fame) and scored by Cliff Martinez (with an assist from Skrillex), Spring Breakers is an immersive phantasmagoria; one of the funniest, strangest, prettiest, and flat out maddest films of the year.

Franco’s ridiculous performance is towering, and his memorable monologue – “I got ‘Escape!’ Calvin Klein ‘Escape!’ Mix it up with Calvin Klein ‘Be.’ Smell nice? I smell nice!” – should become a staple for drama students if there is any sanity in this cockamamie world. The four leading ladies also do some fine work, Gomez in particular. Hudgens and Benson are extremely convincing as murderous sexpots, and the final sequence is absolutely thrilling; a neon-tinged shoot out scored hauntingly – and hilariously – by an orchestral composition of Skrillex’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (which, like the movie itself, works both without irony and as a tongue-in-cheek joke)The graphic content may prove to be too much for some. Harmony Korine probably isn’t sorry, nor should he be. Not when the final product is this good, this thoughtful, and this entertaining.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Spring Breakers arrives in cinemas May 9, 2013.

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