The ‘Spring Breakers’ paradox: A glorifying critique of college’s happy place

Spring Breakers

As a junior in college, I still have never gone on spring break, nor do I have any desire to. I imagine the spray-tanned, tribal-tattooed, ripped men and their insistence on hitting on anything with two legs would rub me—a skinny, un-tattooed young man who’d rather marathon television shows with the time off— the wrong way.

So of course, to celebrate my first day of break, I went to see director Harmony Korine’s fifth feature film, Spring Breakers. The film focuses on four college students, bored of day-to-day life’s mundanity (who isn’t from time to time?), who decide a trip to Florida for spring break just might be the experience they’ve always dreamed about. After securing the finances (by any means necessary), they embark. Florida is everything they could have hoped for— until they get arrested and subsequently bailed out of jail by a rapper/drug dealer incredibly portrayed by the always-eccentric James Franco. It is at this point in the film that the quartet’s dream of an idyllic spring break paradise begins to unravel; and trust me, the entire journey is more valuable than the thousands of dollars you could blow going to Panama City Beach.

The most incredible part of Breakers is how much more intelligent it is than it lets on. It’s the girl in your philosophy class who says “like” every other word in class distracting you from an actual intriguing remark. Breakers is a biting social critique masquerading as a party film— which, due to its cinematic style and cast, will likely be miscategorized as a “college film” in your future Netflix queue. Of course, this works in Breakers‘ favor as well; the casual young-adult movie goer will marvel at the splendor and lasciviousness of college students’ southern migration while the seasoned audience member (or in my case, cynical college student) stares incredulously at the superficiality and false sense of instant gratification a ten-day bender in the Gulf of Mexico can give someone.

The dark themes and content flashing on the screen in Breakers—drugs and the breasts of questionably-aged young adults are the tip of the iceberg— are juxtaposed with neon opening credits, blue skies, Natty Light, and smiles. You’ll too watch with a conflicted smile throughout, but why are you entertained by the exploited youth? Why do you want these egomaniacal young women to have fun? Or perhaps want them to suffer? Breakers calls into question what we find politically correct or incorrect in an American society that glorifies beauty and an instant-reward approach to life.

As one might expect after being dragged alongside James Franco’s character — appropriately named “Alien,” as he seems to be from another planet — Breakers takes a decidedly darker tone. Skrillex’s (who helped score the film) bass-synths become darker and, of course, we’re greeted with a few Gucci Mane songs and beats when his character, “Big Arch,” enters the movie as Alien’s drug-dealing rival. Gucci Mane is as bad at acting as you might expect. Then again, I’ve never been around Gucci while he deals drugs to half the Gulf Coast; maybe that’s how he is in real life.

Still, Spring Breakers is not for everybody. Candy and Brit— Hudgens and Pretty Little Liars’ Ashley Benson, respectively— are irreprehensibly immoral to the point of ridiculousness, and Selena Gomez’s “Faith” is a little in-your-face when Korine attempts to get his countless themes across. Even so, Korine’s movie just might be immune to criticism simply because of how over-the-top it is. Any critique aimed at an outlandish plot about four beautiful, upper-middle class girl who get caught up in a seedy drug underworld can be defended by supporters. It’s supposed to be over-the-top! But Franco’s “Alien” is unrealistic. The whole movie is unrealistic! Spring break isn’t like this at all! But it’s not really about spring break.

At its worst, this is an immoral party film that exploits four young actresses to get across Korine’s convoluted theories about American society. At its best, Spring Breakers succeeds as a piece of art that is as malleable as American youth. It can be watched as an explicitly nude, colorful, dubstep-rich film that finds a place in every fraternity film library. Or one can watch in awe as Harmony Korine makes you cringe, laugh, and stare in bewilderment as he delivers his “State of the Youth” address to cinemas nationwide. Spring Breakers has already sparked controversy and will continue to throughout its theatrical run. Look past that because its themes, cast, and portrayal of teenage culture beg for it to be picked down to the bone.

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