Cale’s Cinema Critiques: “Spring Breakers” 10 year anniversary

Cale Strickland, Managing Editor

I stumbled upon Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” at the height of the pandemic. I was sitting in my dorm room, mindlessly scrolling through the deluge of streaming services in search of something — anything — to temporarily remedy the pervasive boredom which plagued the entirety of my freshman year.

The film follows four college-aged friends: Faith, played by Selena Gomez; Candy, played by Vanessa Hudgens; Brit, played by Ashley Benson; and Cotty, played by Rachel Korine. Dissatisfied with small-town life, the group plans a spring-break trip to Florida. Strapped for cash, Candy, Brit and Cotty rob a mom-and-pop restaurant in town. Shortly after arriving in Saint Petersburg, the group is arrested — not for robbery, but for drug use — at a house party. Penniless, they spend a night in jail, but a local gangster and up-and-coming rapper, Alien, played by James Franco, bails them out the following morning. Roped into Alien’s orbit, Faith and company bear witness to the sky-high highs and rock-bottom lows of his outlaw lifestyle.

Needless to say, “Spring Breakers” is not for everyone. Korine opens the film with a slow-motion montage of twentysomethings partying on Florida’s shores — set to Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” perhaps the perfect encapsulation of the early-2010s music scene, of course. It is perfectly fitting, as Korine directs the film as if it is a feature-length music video for a long-lost Ke$ha song. The film does not have much narrative momentum, and large portions of its barebones, simplistic dialogue are delivered as accompanying voice overs for, yes, more slo-mo montages of young people drinking and smoking. Franco’s performance is a clear-cut Riff Raff impression. The one and only Gucci Mane plays the film’s antagonist.

On first viewing, it was a bit much for me. I was not a fan — at all — and I was not alone. As I am writing, the film holds a Rotten Tomatoes Audience Approval Rating of 38%.

Fast-forward 24 months, and I read the film was celebrating its 10-year anniversary; I figured I would give it another shot.

And, man, I am glad I did. Although I am still not over the moon about the film, a lot of its hazy, neon-lit imagery clicked for me on a rewatch.

What came off on first viewing as an hour and a half of surface-level sensory overload revealed itself as a ghoulish nightmare about a group of vulnerable people. Maybe it is because I have grown older — or because my debt has grown substantially — but I sympathized with Faith and her friends. I, too, am a broke college kid enticed by the prospect of cheap thrills. You have got to break out of the malaise of post-pandemic life somehow.

Regardless of whether or not Saint Petersburg is a world-class vacation spot, it is just that: bright colors, flashing lights, loud music — excitement. Anything is better than passing the time by staring at your dorm room’s off-white walls.

Sure, the performances are not the best. Franco sure does go for it, though. The third-act conflict between a knockoff Riff Raff and Gucci Mane is a bit anticlimactic. The writing is simple and shallow. 

But the vibes are off the charts, and I do not think we would have gotten the psychedelic, glammed-out, mood-over-plot phenomenon fueled by Sam Levinson’s “Euphoria” — the first season’s tagline is, literally, “remember this feeling” — and A24’s new slate of films without Korine. His fingerprints are all over their brand, which is fitting, as “Spring Breakers” was one of the production company’s first projects.

The blueprint was there, in Saint Petersburg, all along.