Irreverent yet enjoyable, they’re full of the joys of spring

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only seen one film that Harmony Korine was involved in: Larry Clark’s Kids (1995), which Korine co-wrote. An autobiographical depiction of ‘90s youth culture in New York, it was a film that deservedly received much praise for its realism. Despite the film’s merit, I’ve never felt the urge to return to it, nor to Korine as a filmmaker – perhaps because the film was not an enjoyable experience, nor was it intended as such: it rang like an unforgettable death knell to all sexually active teenagers who saw it. Since then, starting with his directorial debut Gummo, Korine has been busy carving out a niche in the indie market as a writer/director of all things quirky, sticky and controversial.

Spring Breakers, despite starring Justin Bieber’s on-off girlfriend Selena Gomez and therefore carrying potential mainstream appeal, is by no means Korine reinventing his wheel. In fact, the similarities to Kids are striking: morally corrupt teenagers, copious on-screen nubile nudity, violence, drugs, sex, and an unshakeable sense of foreboding and simmering menace. But the real difference is that this film is fun and funny – so much so that you’ll likely feel guilty for enjoying it – and you probably should. 

The premise is that every year the  ‘spring break’ heralds a rite of passage during which droves of North American kids drive to the coast of Florida to partake in a frenzied cocktail of enough beach sex, booze and drugs to fell a healthy Ollie Reed. In short, an event that sees every parent’s nightmare realised. Our protagonists are four college girls: Cotty (Korine – Harmony’s wife), Brit (Benson), Candy (Hudgens) and Faith (Gomez), who find themselves unable to fund this year’s spring break and so decide to rob the local fried chicken joint. Any pangs of guilt are washed away as they counsel one another to “think of it like a video game”. Here Korine could be making some form of social commentary about video games facilitating guilt-free disassociation from crime, or perhaps not. 

On arrival in Florida, they have the time of their lives. It’s every bit the mind-expanding journey they dared to dream it would be, and they make memories to last a lifetime. That is, until they fall in with Alien (Franco), a beach-bound gangsta-rapping pusher. Alien is running a drug racket that clashes with the interests of gang lord, Archie, making Alien a dangerous man to be seen with.

The performances are good and apparently improvised to some extent. Gomez’s character is the group’s god-fearing moral compass, and for a time she seems to be the film’s centre: we see events from her perspective, but that’s really a red herring. 

Franco is having the time of his life as Alien. In a role that singularly recalls the maniacal menace of Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru in Wild At Heart, Franco is frequently comedic and Alien is as inane as he is insane. These are deliberate attempts to repeatedly wrong-foot the audience. Korine seems to purposefully eschew any narrative convention, or rather, to set up the convention only to tear it down moments later. The effect is disorientating and dazzling in every sense – like your first time inside a sweet shop, it’s an all-out eye-assault of bikinis and burning neon. 

The film is weakened by the sketchy characterisation of the individual girls, Gomez being the exception. It’s interesting to consider that if one were to swap the gender of the protagonists, the film would likely be received entirely differently. Spring Breakers might be irreverent nonsense, but it is enjoyable – and the cultural impact of Britney Spears will never be better illustrated. Spring break forever, bitches.

Spring Breakers


Dir: Harmony Korine; US comedy/drama, 2013, 94 mins; Selena Gomez, James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Juston Wheelon, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Gucci Mane

Premiered May 23

Playing nationwide