Spring Breakers: shallow romp or ingenious commentary?

“It’s just like James Franco saying ‘sprang break, sprang break’ the whole time. That’s what I heard.” With this comment, and only this, as my fore-knowledge of Spring Breakers, I sat in the theater. I was surrounded by high school kids, or potentially hyper-immature college students, all screaming and shouting obscenities and bouncing in their seats. Moments later, the movie started, the noisiness of the audience increased, and I realized just how unprepared I was for the movie.

The film begins with Skrillex music pumping in the background and then bodies, primarily half-naked female ones, covering the screen. Shots of bare boobs, asses shaking in bikini bottoms, females licking popsicles erotically, men pouring beers into girls’ open, clamoring, mouths, and a series of half-maniacal, ecstatic college age students screaming as they flip off the camera passed in front of my eyes in the endless span of three minutes. It was a remarkably uncomfortable three minutes, despite being familiar with TRL’s fairly similar depictions of “Spring Break,” and I felt grateful that I was wearing a sweater.

After the viewer’s initial foray into the hyper-glossed images of “kids having fun” on spring break, the viewers are pulled into the dark, computer lined classroom where our female protagonists are being lectured. As the teacher discusses civil rights and the Reconstruction era, boredom drives one of our leads to faux- lick a hand drawn erotic graphic. Her friend draws something equally inane, and the girls whisper “just wait until spring break!” Oh, the fun they will have ignoring history and real life, as they “get it in” and “party their faces off.”

Spring Breakers has quite a lead cast. Three of the four female stars are instantly recognizable by teen and pre-teen fans for their acting “work” in High School Musical, The Wizards of Waverly Place, and Pretty Little Liars. The primary two biddies, played by Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens, are blond, insane, and exhibit a semi-erotic friendship. The other “Disney Princess” is Selena Gomez, aptly named Faith for her role as the token religious friend in the group, ready to finally let loose. The group is rounded out by Harmony Korine, the director’s wife, whose role mainly seems to be “agree with the other characters” and “have pink hair.”

Forced to desperate measures because they can’t afford spring break, the two blonde girls (Hudgens and Benson) mug strangers in a restaurant. Easily accomplished, the four girls head to Florida and at first, have a deliciously fun time. In between binge-drinking and a lot of friendship time, Gomez calls her grandma to tell her she feels like she’s “just beginning to find who she really is.”

However, Gomez’s heightened self-awareness comes to a wrenching halt when the girls are arrested. Lucky for them, Alien, a drug dealing psychotic crazy, played by James Franco, bails them out. He brings the girls along with him to a house in the ghetto where there are a lot of black people, and Gomez suddenly feels things have gone “too far.” “These people are strangers,” she whispers to her female cohorts, “I don’t like them touching me.” When the strangers were white, college aged, and wasted, Gomez didn’t have a problem being rubbed against. However, when she is in what is depicted as “the hood” with African American strangers, she feels frightened. She gets the hell out of Spring Break, and the audience never sees her again.

The three remaining girls go to live with Alien, who is depicted as a hilarious characterization of a kingpin. His house is covered in drugs, guns, and cash. He has a piano by his swimming pool, and all the money he could ever need. He is also the seediest character alive, but the girls find him delightful. They never want to leave.

However, too soon fate strikes again and pink-haired Korine gets shot and leaves spring break. As soon as any of the characters express emotion or anything too intimately related to feelings, they are sent out of the film. Back to “college.” Ew, lame sauce, amiright?! The film concludes with the remaining two blondes serving as Alien’s main partners in crime, alternating sleeping with him and shooting up spring breakers.

After leaving the movie and discussing it at length, I am caught in a dilemma. The film was either terrifically stupid, lacking plot, story, and character depth, or it was an insightful critique of our generation and American society.

If the film is a critique, and I hope that it was, Spring Breakers points out our flawed views of race, gender, and consequences. If we think of the classic rap music video, what does it show? Boobs, asses, guns, drugs, “gangsters” in the hood, nice cars and nice broads, right? Spring Breakers indulgently displays these stereotypes of black culture. The filmmakers, to underline this point, cast a popular African American rapper, Gucci Mane, to play the only black lead. Ultimately, the film reduces African American males to a stereotype of drugs, aggression, and gun violence. Continuing an obscene depiction of race and culture, the film ends with a KKK reference. The two white female leads, eyes peeking out through white ski masks, shoot and kill a house full of African Americans.

The motivation behind the shooting isn’t entirely evident, but instead exhibits the white characters “winning” and again getting away scot-free. The lack of consequences evident throughout the film makes sense if we view Spring Breakers as a video game. Although the females are constantly participating in dangerous behavior, incessantly putting themselves in dangerous situations where their bodies are extremely vulnerable, nothing that bad ever happens. Even when they are arrested, they only spend a short time in jail, and the montage of shots seems more of an opportunity to display the girls in bathing suits snuggling than a poignant moment of repercussions for foolish actions. Furthermore, the film follows a certain narrative logic, where video game images run rampant: the unfounded aggression of the characters, the hyper-sexualized depiction of female bodies, and the reckless behavior. The female characters are essentially playing Grand Theft Auto.

And it’s SO fun! The spring breakers are happy. All the time. What an amazing experience. SPRING BREAK, NO PARENTS, NO RULES. No three dimensional characters, either. The film never depicts any way to emotionally connect with any of the characters. Furthermore, we don’t know anything about the girls’ families, homes, or backgrounds, besides a limited view of the church group that Selena Gomez participates in. We hardly even hear the lead characters’ names mentioned. It seems that instead of depicting real female characters, the filmmakers instead chose to place bodies on the screen to stand as images of “what we want.” Our generation wants to live a wild lifestyle, free from rules and parental expectations, where you can do crazy shit and never worry about your actions. The film provides how a spring break from life would be.

Personally, I left the film emptied. Seeing the “Disney Princesses” visualized in a grown up, collegiate phase, smoking, drinking, displaying their bodies and themselves as objects at the world, I felt a sense of despair. Our Disney stars are kids, right? So does this mean we imagine the representation portrayed by the female stars is the natural next step for children? To transition immediately from playing wizards and enjoying musical sing-a-longs to using their bodies for sex and flipping off the audiences who grew up with them? Is this “maturity?” Whether this film was intentionally self-aware, exploring a racist, classist, sexist culture who wants drugs and money and cars to be happy, poking fun at our expectations, or if it was not, and instead used these same bigoted images to draw in a blockbuster sized audience, it still paints a hideous portrait of the expectations of our society.

In the theater, we watched James Franco storm a room of spring breakers with his white female cohorts and beat the shit out of innocent strangers. In the background, the Britney Spears song “Everytime” plays, eliciting raucous laughter from the audience.  What kind of a culture do we live in that entirely unwarranted violence could be depicted as a moment of hilarity? America! I believe that the scariest aspect of Spring Breakers is how many of its audience members will take the film at face value, entirely ignoring any cultural critique evident, and leave desiring to be like the depthless, volatile, fearless female leads.

As we left the movie, the very first thing my friend said was, illustrating just such a simple reading of the film: “Now I just really want to try coke.”

Point made, Spring Breakers.

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