Despite being a frequent cinema-goer, I still love the moment when the lights turn down low and the silver screen lets you get into its magic. I love feeling that unique thrill especially when a movie surprises me, which doesn’t happen often. I had high expectations on Spring Breakers before going to the cinema, but I couldn’t imagine I would see such a complex and meaningful film. I know Harmony Korine’s body of work and aesthetic pretty well, but here I think he has reached a new dimension of his career. The choice of picking two former Disney princesses (Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez) and a tv screen sensation (Ashley Benson, Hanna Marin in Pretty Little Liars) – plus his own wife Rachel Korine – as protagonists is a step which sounds mainstream but serves as a strong statement instead.
The core of the film is the spring break, a moment in the life of American college students in which ordinary life and routine are suspended. Anything is possible during spring break. Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty see it as a chance to escape their boring lives both physically (they will go to Tampa Bay, Florida) and emotionally. Boredom is a key element in the first part of the movie: the girls act like younger versions of Thelma and Louise, leave their shallow campus and move to sunny beaches. There, in a different context, they (especially Candy and Brit) push and go beyond their own limits, discovering raw, cold and violent sides of themselves. They are contemporary versions of Nabokov’s Lolitas (even if they’re not teenagers): they combine seductiveness, wickedness and innocence, and pursue their own goals (primarily money and adventure) with tenacity, no matter what. They act like gangsters, at a certain point of the narration, but still watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and choose a white unicorn as the emblem on their pink balaclavas.
Their ruthlessness is always tempered by innocence or by the desire to be “a good girl”, as they repeat talking on the phone to their mothers and grandmother: Faith and her religious education are the first victims of the symbolical Russian roulette they are playing in Florida; she’ll be followed by Cottie, who’s probably the most mysterious character of all. The beautiful scenes in which the two girls leave Florida, one after the other, present the same framings, meaning that both of them have gone through the same path of sin and repentance. Candy and Brit, on the other hand, dwelve into a spiral of violence and sex, along with the vicious Alien (a great James Franco), until they put his own personal vengeance through.
The aformentioned contrast of ruthlessness and innocence characterizes the girls and their world of cultural references. It’s not a coincidence that they sing two songs by Britney Spears, tracks that symbolize a precise phase in her career.
The first – Baby One More Time – is sung in the parking lot of a drugstore, just after their arrival in Florida. This 1999 song is the debut single which made her famous and introduced her to the world as the naughty schoolgirl, exactly what the spring breakers are in the first part of the film.
The second – Everytime – is the “sweet song” the girls need before getting into action with Alien, assaulting and robbing. The 2004 music video, directed by David LaChapelle, saw the pop star chased by paparazzi, trapped in a toxic relationship and attempting to commit suicide. There’s a crescendo of desperation which seems to foreshadow the star’s meltdown in 2007, but this clears up in the final scene.; a similar path is followed by Candy and Brit. The rest of the soundtrack includes tracks by Shrillex and Cliff Martinez (who composed the music of Drive by Nicolas Winding Refn), electronic tunes which beautifully complement the film.
Cinema references are another staple of Spring Breakers: besides the reference to Thelma & Louise, I think it pays homage to the archetype of the “girl with the gun”, the fearless female figure who takes revenge on her enemies or – in general – who is not afraid of holding a gun in her hand and use it. Monica Vitti as Assunta Patané in La ragazza con la pistola by Mario Monicelli, Russ Meyer’s pussycats, Uma Thurman as Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill and the four girls who kill Stuntman Mike in Death Proof by Quentin Tarantino, not to mention Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson, are only some of the actresses and characters who have made this figure famous. I’d like to see them as feminists (in the final assault to Archie‘s mansion they kill men only), but I think they’re more like female Scarfaces , protagonists of a fictional kill-all videogame who go through a painful path of self-discovery.
Far from being a stereotypical about sex and drugs, girls gone wild and gangters, Spring Breakers doesn’t fail to impress for its honest post-modern coming-of-age story, whose ending remains suspended like dust in the wind.