“Spring Breakers” takes us on a disturbing, hypnotic ride

Spring Breakers is not a teen movie. I repeat, not a teen movie. Get rid of any notions you have of the film based on its stars, Disney darlings Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Pretty Little LiarsAshley Benson. In fact, these fresh-faced beauties smash through their perceived personas like a baseball bat through grandma’s fine china. (Heather Morris even pops in for a brief, and unexpected cameo.)

The movie starts out with the girls stuck on their college campus during spring session. Turns out they haven’t saved enough scratch to get them to Florida for spring break, and the boredom and pent up aggression is beginning to mount. Three of the girls, Brit (Benson), Candy (Hudgens,) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) come up with a plan to solve their problems. It’s the ease in which they come to this decision that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Faith (Selena Gomez), the “good girl” of the group, goes along for the ride. The four leads give commanding performances, some, the best so far of their young careers. Benson is wonderfully subtle as Brit, quiet and calculating. Vanessa Hudgens plays Candy with crazy-eyed abandon. As Cotty, Rachel Korine’s performance is emotionally exposed and raw. The role of Faith is bound to be a real game changer for Selena Gomez, who I was worried, would be out of place in this motley crew. Turns out, she fits right in.

When the girls finally make it down to Florida, they run into rapper/aspiring drug kingpin, Alien (James Franco) in less than ideal circumstances. Franco, he of the usually sleepy delivery, fully commits to they role. He plays the part with equal parts frenetic glee, and menace. Much has been made of his performance of Britney Spears’ “Everytime,” and I can tell you, the entire sequence lives up to the hype. Unicorns have never been so unsettling. 

While there are some moments of girl-on-girl kissing, and lots of nudity, it actually left me feeling more unsettled than titillated. (The friendship between Brit and Candy is quite intense, and one gets the feeling there may be something more going on behind the scenes.) There are numerous shots of spring break debauchery, with nameless women prostrating themselves for the male gaze and their fellow “breakers.” It’s messy and hard to look at, and that’s totally the point. Writer/director Harmony Korine (Kids, Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy) does not shy away from focusing in on the ugly side of his young protagonists. His leads are anti-heroes. In between lingering, extreme close ups on the actresses beautiful faces and the bright, neon colors of the Floridian backdrop the viewer can’t help but feel an uneasiness creeping in. I found myself slack-jawed for a good portion of the movie, questioning the intentions of every character numerous times. I’ve never thought I could enjoy being so utterly bewildered, but yet, I was completely transfixed.

Spring Breakers isn’t simple, or formulaic. It isn’t a film about sexy co-eds bouncing on a beach in (and out of) their bikinis. It’s about the savages that lie in wait, just behind the Popsicle stained smiles of its leading ladies.

Spring Breakers opens nationwide on March 22.

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