Spring Breakers review
September 27, 2016

Spring Breakers is the sort of movie that a person doesn't quickly forget, having once seen it. Unfortunately, that's not necessarily a compliment.

The premise is that four young girls are aching to get away to the Florida vacation spots on spring break. They've been good little college girls, but now they want to experience something different from their every-day drudgery. Unfortunately, they don't have a lot of money saved up for the big event, and so they steal a professor's car and hold up a diner and suddenly they're flush with cash... at least to a point that will allow them to take the vacation.

They head south, taking a quick break along the way to burn the vehicle they stole. Once they arrive at their ultimate destination, they make the party rounds, when not riding rented scooters. Some of them call home, to assure concerned parents that they're just fine. They also spend a lot of time in the swimming pool, talking excitedly about how they came here to "find themselves." They hope that this can last forever.

But of course, it can't. The girls are soon arrested at a party, and thrown into jail. Then they are bailed out by a guy they don't even know, who saw them in court. "Alien" (played convincingly by James Franco) is a white man who fancies himself a drug kingpin. He has "Scarface" on constant loop on the DVD player in his crib, which he watches while lying on a bed of money, with automatic weapons hanging on his wall. He is a horrifying figure, and now the girls have to question whether the new identities they are forging are really the identities they want. There's no law saying they all have to arrive at the same answer.

At 94 minutes long, Spring Breakers doesn't sound like it should last long enough to meaningfully tell the complex story it presumably hopes to tell (and no, I haven't summarized more than the first half or so). Movies with subject matter in this vein commonly bump up against the 2-hour mark, and Spring Breakers feels more like it was trying to be a comedy. Even with the abbreviated duration, scenes drag and repeat. There's very little dialogue of any importance that isn't repeated two or (more often) three times, and very little of it is profound enough to warrant even the first instance. There also are a lot of scenes that play out in slow motion, or with quick flashes from one perspective to another, which depict obnoxious partying: girls guzzling beer from hoses attached to kegs, guys licking drugs off naked young ladies, topless women screaming and yelling for the camera.

Some other viewers have argued that all of these scenes serve no purpose, that they're gratuitous filler and too numerous besides. However, I see them as actually the primary point of the movie. The girls are trying to find themselves, after all. They're just going about it in all the wrong ways, surrendering to temptation and deluding themselves into believing that they're doing something meaningful. That, or they're just falling happily into the self-destructive roles society has arranged for them.

There are some beautiful, poignant moments that serve no apparent purpose other than to be beautiful and poignant. They stand out, unfortunately, because they are so uncommon. And there are some absolutely gorgeous shots, from an artistic standpoint, and there is a bunch of ridiculous dialogue that says "This is satire" and expects you to either get the joke or to respond with disgust. Either reaction, I think, is just fine. Either reaction seems to be what the director was going for.

I'm left unsure just who the movie was most intended to satisfy, though. There are parts of it that worked well for me, but the bulk of it either bored me or depressed me. I don't need a movie to tell me that life sucks and people are self-destructive and hung up on the wrong things. Getting through to the end of the film was sometimes a struggle, though the effort involved did lessen by around the halfway point. I wouldn't say that Spring Breakers entertained me in the conventional way that I like movies to entertain me, and the message I got out of it wasn't complex enough to challenge me, either. But I'm hesitant to dismiss it as pure garbage, the way some have. That's because I believe there's art here even though a lot of it isn't to my taste. The director clearly tried to do things differently, and he managed to make that work in spite of things. It just didn't work in a way that I can recommend to anyone who isn't looking for obnoxious satire.

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