The most shocking thing about Spring Breakers is that it garnered a semi-wide (over 1,000 screens) release in the US. The distributors must have been banking on the prurient allure of seeing former Disney TV stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in a sexploitation romp, along with Pretty Little Liars star Ashley Benson, James Franco, and Rachel Korine (the writer/director's wife). Former teen queens cavorting in bikinis, smoking weed, and brandishing firearms? Sounds like a guilty pleasure, right? Beware, though: Spring Breakers may look like a hoot, but this is a Harmony Korine film.
I've long been a diehard fan - or should I say defender, or even apologist - of Korine's output (and outlook), ever since his screenplay for Kids some 18(!) years ago. I know some see him as just a canny self-promoter who relies on media-friendly shock value to get his films noticed, but I still believe there's a serious artist at work here. He may be obsessed with the tacky, trashy side of contemporary American culture, but he's not in it for cheap laughs. America, as Korine sees it, is a land of profound ugliness, with a future as bleak as can be. I think this worries him greatly, and I think his films are meant to make his audiences worry too.
In Spring Breakers, the aforementioned quartet of starlets play poor college students who, desperate to enjoy a week of depravity in sunny Florida, eventually rob a fast food restaurant (with squirt guns!) in order to get the cash to make the bus trip down south. Their St. Petersburg debauchery takes a wrong turn, and when the girls attract the attentions of a local gold-toothed rapper/gangster (a fully committed Franco) and his crew, things get even darker.
You might think this is all a set up to some big moral, but Korine is not here to preach. In all his films, from the weirdly beautiful Gummo to the unwatchable Trash Humpers, he is content to simply create a mood, then step back and watch as his scarily unenlightened young characters dig their own holes. He's obviously troubled by how ruthless American youth has become, but he knows it's enough to just depict what he sees, warts and all, without stepping in to make a statement. And so it goes with Spring Breakers.