Release Date: 3-22-13 (USA)
Review Date: 3-26-13
Runtime: 94 min.
Costume Designer: Heidi Bivens
Having just seen Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, the words that come to my mind: WOAH. WTF. OMG. NO WAY. This is a nightmare of a movie, in the very best sense – it has haunted my dreams. Marketed oddly as a good-times comedy, it couldn’t be further from the reality of what this movie actually is – a nihilistic meditation on youth, freedom, and the meaning of life. Starring Disney poster girls Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez alongside cinematic chameleon James Franco, this film destroys any kind of squeaky-cleanness they might have once had. It’s brilliant, it’s brash, and it’s scary as hell.
I’ll try to keep it short here – four aimless girls from a boring college want to go on spring beak, but they don’t have the money to afford it. They rob a diner, and use the proceeds to put themselves on a party bus to St. Petersburg, Florida. There, they engage in the kind of “Girls Gone Wild” debauchery that keeps parents up at night. After snorting coke off each other and getting busted by the cops at a crazy/sleazy party, they find themselves in jail. They don’t have the money to bail themselves out, but wannabe rapper Alien (James Franco) does. He takes the girls in to his seedy, drug-running world. Faith (Selena Gomez), the good girl of the bunch, gets freaked out and goes home. The other girls do some dirty work for Alien and incur the wrath of another underworld kingpin, Archie (Gucci Mane). One of the girls, Cotty (Rachel Korine) is shot in the arm. Alien sews her back up and she goes home as well. The two remaining girls, Candy (Hudgens) and Brit (Ashley Benson) conspire with Alien to avenge Cotty’s shooting and put an end to Archie.
The girls’ costumes are simply brilliant. There is an insouciance about them that is truly unsettling. They draw pictures of penises and pass notes about getting laid during a WWII history lecture. The juxtaposition of the topic of the lecture (Hitler, the Holocaust – some of the most serious subject matter) with the vapid, animalistic, smarmy sexual exchange between the girls tells you exactly who they are. As an audience member you ask yourself – Do I judge them? Or stay tuned and see what happens? Is it funny? Or does it make you fearful of what’s going to become of “kids these days”? The movie walks a fine line, and I think it is completely brilliant in its non-judgment of the characters in the film.
Harmony Korine, it should be noted, wrote the screenplay for 1995’s KIDS, directed by Larry Clark, a similarly shocking and queasifying film. He does not pull punches, and he is able to realistically portray unlikable characters without judgment. I think his perspective and ability to create these stories is really amazing.
When Candy and Brit rob the diner, they wear short shorts, hooded sweatshirts and ski masks. Their girly pink backpacks serve as counterpoint to the violence they are perpetrating. If you’re going to rob a diner, I’d think you’d choose something that is more of a disguise than this. But the point is, these girls aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box. Their choice of robbery costume – short shorts? Really? – speaks volumes to who they are.
Once in Florida, the girls are mostly in the uniform of Spring Breakers everywhere: bikinis. The color scheme here is very strong and clear – pastels, neons, day-glo, with a tan. There is a ton of nudity in this film, and ALL of it is female nudity – which also makes the audience wonder – misogyny? Or making a point? Is it so absurd as to be funny? Or is it a proliferation of the sexual objectification of women in film? This film poses so many questions, and leaves it to the audience to answer them themselves.
Alien raps at a huge outdoor beachside concert/party, much like you’d see on MTV. Naked girls everywhere, booze, drugs, oiled-up skin, CHECK. To see Franco turned out like this: grill, Carrerra sunglasses, cornrows… it’s seriously amazing. And what’s more is that he is so lost in this character that the look never wears HIM. It’s an incredible feat, and I applaud his commitment to making Alien more than a caricature. By the end of the film, we feel for him, grill and all.
The big gross after party is goose-bump-inducingly sleazy. I got the feeling that gang rape was just around the corner, everywhere. That the girls go to jail, and subsequently court, still in their bikinis, is at once outrageous and hilarious. I don’t know too much about the legal system in Florida, so I can only imagine (given the circumstances) that occasionally people do try to go to court in bikinis… but again, these are aesthetic choices that illustrate a storytelling point.
They meet Alien outside the courthouse. He wears what can only be described as a “bad shirt”, and I mean that in the BEST way. If you’ve ever spent time in Florida (I’ve made two movies there, spent over seven months there), you know the “bad shirt”. This is really wonderful costuming, and it made me so happy to see that they really went for it.
Once the three girls commit to Alien, they join him at his outdoor piano for an impromptu version of Britney Spears’ song Everytime. It’s jaw-dropping. But the real reason my jaw dropped is that the girls came out to join Alien wearing black sweatpants emblazoned with “DTF” across the bum, matching mono-kinis, and pink ski masks with a unicorn patch on the forehead. They are carrying assault rifles, and they dance like a terpsichorean choir. It is so bonkers, so out of left field, and it is so brilliant, it blew my mind.
By the time we get to the revenge-seeking with Archie, the girls are in full assault mode. They wear yellow neon bikinis and the pink unicorn ski masks. It reminded me very much (at least symbolically) of Tarantino’s Kill Bill, when Uma Thurman kicks all kinds of ass in her yellow track suit. For me, it was the same kind of “p*ssy power” vibe. And I asked myself: Is this the new Thelma and Louise? If this kind of female empowerment action is directed by a man, is it absolved from accusations of misogyny? So many questions. So. Many. Questions.
The bottom line, though, is that I thought that the costumes were great. It was an oily, sleazy, uncomfortable ride, and I think the costumes are a major part of the storytelling in this film. Heidi Bivens and her crew have done some great work, and you really need to see the movie. It will stick with me for a long time, and that is the point, isn’t it? Art encourages you to think about things differently, and let me tell you – this is ART!