Another sordid tale from the Sunshine State beckons in Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers. The idea of enfant terrible emeritus Korine — 1997's Gummo, 2007's Mister Lonely, 2009's Trash Humpers — directing something so utterly common as a spring break movie is head-scratching enough, even more so compounded by the casting of teen dreams Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, and Ashley Benson as bikini-clad girls gone wild. James Franco co-stars as drug dealer Alien, all platinum teeth and cornrows and shitty tattoos, who befriends the lasses after they're busted by the fun police.
"Are you being serious?" Gomez's character asks Alien, soon after meeting him. "What do you think?" he grins back. Unschooled filmgoers who stumble into the theater to see their favorite starlets might be shocked by Breakers' hard-R hijinks. But Korine fans will understand that this neon-lit, Skrillex-scored tale of debauchery and dirty menace is not to be taken at face value. The subject matter, the casting, the Britney Spears songs, the deliberately lurid camerawork — all are carefully-constructed elements in a film that takes not-taking-itself-seriously, very seriously indeed. Korine has said he prefers his films to make "perfect nonsense" instead of perfect sense. Spring Breakers makes perfect nonsense, and it also makes nonsense perfect.
After a slo-mo opening sequence of generic partying stuffed with the three Bs (boobs, beer, beach), Spring Breakers shifts to a crummy town in Southern Nowheresville, home to bored college students Brit (Benson), Candy (Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine, wife of the director), and Faith (Gomez). (Can you guess which one is the Christian?) The friends moan about the spring break they're being denied due to lack of funds, until a plan to rob a fast-food restaurant emerges, and Spring Breakers' prevailing visual motif — ski mask-wearing hot chicks with guns — is born. It's one of the film's many "jokes without a punch line" (another favorite Korine pursuit) that the girls' college life already resembles one big party — they're already kinda living spraaaannng braaakkke forevaa, as Alien is fond of saying.
That's important, because there's a reason spring break is typically just a one-week affair. For most, full-tilt crazy is only a safe state of being when there's a clearly-defined endpoint. School begins again; as your liver starts to repair itself, you're left with a peeling sunburn, stories to tell, maybe a questionable new tattoo. For these girls, spring break is elevated into a chance to "find ourselves, to find out who we are," according to one of Faith's dreamy voice-overs. For certain among the group, it's a quest that leads to some very dark places. Is that a good idea? What do you think? But don't think too hard, now: to quote Alien again, "Bikinis and big booties, y'all ... that's what life is about."
THE MANSON FAMILY
Fri/22-Sat/23, midnight, $9-10
2261 Fillmore, SF
SPRING BREAKERS opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters.