Seeking freedom from reality
Topless girls, alcohol, drugs – and a message that’s hard to swallow
Directed by Harmony Korine
Starring Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine and James Franco
This is not the movie you expect it to be. You will see a more-than-adequate amount of scantily clad coeds and parties where someone ends up with a raw chicken on their head, but you will also experience discomfort at the sheer strangeness of the film and the message it thrusts in your face by constant voiceover repetition. The plot is simple enough: four girls rob a diner to afford a spring break trip, and people die (insert meme).
The film has an experimental flavor because of frequently repeated montages and voiceovers, the use of the sound of a firing gun to signal scene changes, and the repetition of a specific clip in various parts of the film. Whether these unconventional techniques are always necessary is questionable, but director Harmony Korine’s bravery in using them is laudable. One particularly successful sequence is when the girls rob a diner — during the scene, we follow Cotty (Rachel Korine) in the getaway car and hear Nicki Minaj playing on the stereo, while Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Brit (Ashley Benson) do the robbing. Later in the film there is a flashback of this scene, in which the camera enters the diner and we hear the diegetic sounds of a sledgehammer smashing glass and the girls screaming profanity-laced threats.
There was much anticipation of whether Selena Gomez and Hudgens would be able to rid themselves of their clean images and be convincing in these gritty roles, and I was ready to tear them to pieces (actually, it was the main reason I chose to review the movie). Unfortunately, their performances were a pleasant surprise. Gomez’s character was a good Christian girl influenced by the naughtier girls, which was probably not too difficult for her to pull off — when her “bad” friends pressure her into taking a hit of marijuana, the look on her face is perfect. Her ability to deliver over-worked lines such as “This is where we’re supposed to find where we are. This wasn’t the dream” with sincerity was impressive, especially when contrasted with her costar Rachel Korine, whose delivery of the line “I want to go home. Spring Break’s over,” provoked laughs from the audience.
Hudgens’ character was harder to pull off because she was written to be the most twisted one, constantly using her hand to imitate a gun, and smoking a bong like nobody’s business. Although her more sentimental lines lacked depth, she succeeded in being badass. James Franco was possibly the worst aspect of the film: his grill made it sound like he had braces and his attempt to use Ebonics failed miserably. Ultimately, his inability to portray a character that was scary and creepy enough to enforce the idea that the girls were in danger when around him ruined the film’s chances of making the audience believe in the story.
By casting well-known actors, the filmmakers could get away with experimenting with nonlinear sequences and disembodied voices repeating phrases (we frequently hear Franco’s voice saying “spring breeeeak” creepily). They also mixed in lower quality footage and a hallucinatory effect of morphing pixels. Still, there is a fine line between stupid and ingenious, especially in certain scenes, such as when the girls are dancing while Franco’s character sings “Everytime” by Britney Spears. The audience’s constant laughter during scenes that the director intended to be serious was frustrating, as it made it difficult for me to form my own opinions about the film.
Harmony Korine is making a statement about trying to escape reality and deceiving yourself into thinking that, if you could just be in a different environment, you could achieve what you used to dream about. In one scene, the girls dance in a circle to “Everytime,” paralleling the nursery rhyme “ring-around-the-rosies”, and in a scene near the end of the film, Franco sings an eerie song (with lyrics inspired by plot) that is reminiscent of the “Three Little Pigs” fairy tale. These references to childhood reinforce the idea that we all once had dreams of what we would one day be, but we got stuck in conventional lifestyles and became too comfortable to change — or to even want to change.
Hearing “spring break foreverrrr” constantly repeated throughout the film makes you realize that the girls’ degenerate behavior is an attempt to escape conventional life, and that they think this behavior is necessary in order to immortalize their spring break and forever preserve the memory as a tool to combat the banalities of life. We see their escapades as expressions of freedom, and soon realize that we also desire some form of freedom. The film’s deluge of topless girls, alcohol, and drugs transforms from simply repeated montages into a stab at reality — in which we have convinced ourselves that we are not bored with our lives.
Thus, the film is hard to digest not only because it unveils the voyeurism with which we approached the movie — we obviously expect to see hot people on a beach — but also because the message is so disturbingly relevant. And Korine knows that.