10 years ago: Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers was a Debaucherous Delight
The film turned Disney starlets into spring break bad girls- and helped form A24’s unique aesthetic.
Spring Break, Bitches!
In the early part of the aughts, raunch culture was everywhere, and as Ariel Levy points out in her book “Female Chauvinist Pigs,” women were a big part of it. It was the age of “Girls Gone Wild” and its various descendants, and also the days when Fox News would air fear-mongering segments about spring break, while also running a continuous girls-in-bikinis reel.
Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, released in the spring of 2013, sort of represented a hangover of that era. It was about a bunch of girls going on a spring break trip to Florida, getting in a lot of trouble, and getting involved with a gross DJ/drug dealer/arms dealer named “Alien” (played by James Franco at his absolute scummiest and in a part that plays even scummier considering what we now know about that actor.)
The stunning visual of the three young women appearing for a courtroom arraignment still in their bikinis is like the whole movie in a microcosm.
Korine’s masterstroke with the film was filling the female cast with actresses, led by Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, who up to that point had been most closely associated with Disney projects.
Women who are former Disney stars getting quickly sexed up not long after their service to the Mouse is far from a new phenomenon — Miley Cyrus’ post-Hannah Montana transformation was cemented that same year at the MTV awards — but it was never quite like in Spring Breakers. Gomez, in particular, has had about five different distinct eras of her career just in the last ten years, but this was something new for her at the time.
The way the film was shot felt a lot like a fever dream, which was just the right tone; this was one of the first major films released by A24 and appears to have played a big role in forming the A24 aesthetic.
Hudgens, Gomez, Ashley Benson, and the director’s wife Rachel Korine played the four girls, college students from somewhere in Appalachian American who head to St. Petersburg for spring break. Since three of them are seen doing a robbery to afford the trip, this isn’t exactly a case of innocence defiled; although Gomez’s character, Faith, comes from a Christian background and is introduced at a church retreat where the pastor, in a cameo that was absolutely jarring at the time, was played by veteran wrestler Jeff Jarrett:
Amid drug, alcohol, and nudity-filled adventures, they wind up in jail, and later in the thrall of a cornrowed guy named Alien. Who makes clear, in the film’s most memorable scene, that he’s got shorts:
Things get much more violent as the film goes on, as the girls are pulled into a crime war between Alien and “Big Arch” (rapper Gucci Mane.)
Korine had arrived on the scene in the ’90s as part of that decade’s indie boom; he wrote but didn’t direct 1995’s notorious Kids and went on to direct Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy; he followed that with Mr. Lonely in 2007 and Trash Humpers in 2009, before breaking through again with Spring Breakers, which played festivals in 2012 but hit theaters in March of 2013.
He followed that up with The Beach Bum in 2019, with Matthew McConaughey as a profane and childlike professional poet; it’s my favorite film of his by far, even if you don’t read it as a straight Donald Trump allegory. It took the “scuzzy Florida” aesthetic of Spring Breakers even further, with glorious results.
Spring Breakers made $32 million worldwide, by far the biggest hit of the director’s career. The film is still very enjoyable a decade later, even as it feels like a product of its particular time.
Spring Breakers is streaming for free on Pluto TV and Tubi.