Miley Cyrus’s twerking at the VMA Awards gala event this last Sunday is a bit of pop culture that’s hard to digest but might be devoured by a movie like “Spring Breakers.” In this movie, we find Selena Gomez, playing the role of Faith, in a much more acceptable expression of youthful rebellion. It could be interesting to get director Harmony Korine’s take on Miley Cyrus. Most likely, he would not be passing any judgment. He would probably be fascinated by the spectacle and how it might work into a story. That is the sort of thinking behind “Spring Breakers,” which recently became available for home entertainment.
“Spring Breakers” is a notable achievement for director Harmony Korine. He skyrocketed to fame at age 19, with his screenplay for “Kids” in 1995. With this film, he provides poetic and provocative mature work. It’s certainly much more than just a look at what can go wrong. It’s not social commentary. It’s a dreamlike story. It’s daring not only for its “girls gone wild” content but for subverting what many viewers might expect.
One thing you might not expect is James Franco’s mesmerizing performance as Alien, a rapper/gangster with a mystical charisma. It’s the sort of seedy character that Matthew McConaughey seems to pull off with ease. The big risk for him was whether he’d be convincing and he definitely makes this character his own. The biggest risk for Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine was being exploited in any way. Based on the interviews attached to this movie, and the movie itself, they appear to have done well for themselves. It might be another story for the countless real life spring breakers in the background of this movie but that’s what happens when life and art collide.
Harmony Korine is all about life and art colliding. Pop culture, with its moments of brilliance and tawdriness, is his landscape. Youthful excess is only part of the picture. More often than not, Korine is playing with composition, texture, and sound. And while the story may seem rather loopy and strange, it does have a purpose. It’s not a cautionary tale, at least not in an obvious way. It’s closer to grand opera than hip-hop. And it feels totally contemporary while also coming across as timeless.
Overall, I’d rent this movie mainly for Franco’s performance. We find the gangster king to be menacing, vulnerable, and even out of his depth. It’s a masterful expression of a pop culture train wreck. This was no accident or stroke of luck. It’s simply great acting chops at work. This is as much Korine’s character as it is Franco’s so we can celebrate them both.