America, fuck yeah! was the ironic theme of Team America: World Police, the clever puppet film from the creators of South Park that ridiculed pretty much every flag-waving, god-fearing action film ever made. And Korine's loud, brash and showy Spring Breakers seems to have the same theme, albeit with booze and boobs rather than blowing shit up.
Four small-town college girls – Faith (Gomez), Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson) and Cotty (Korine's wife, Rachel) – want to head to Florida for spring break, as most American college kids do. They lack the funds though, so three of them (minus Faith) rob a local diner to raise the cash. Cue much drinking and partying and snorting of coke, until one night a party gets busted by the cops and the girls get thrown in the tank. A white knight rides up – driving an expensive sports car – in the form of Alien, a cornrowed, gold-tooth gangster who bails out the girls. Alien is rich, and is not ashamed of showing it. He invites the girls to become part of his gang, but religious Faith is having none of it so she jumps on the bus home, followed not long after by Cotty. Which leaves Candy and Brit to slide further down the slippery slope into Florida's underbelly.
There's plenty of teen flesh on display in Spring Breakers, which seems slightly incongruous with the point the film appears to be making. It's trying to be a biting social satire of the youthful obsession with hedonism. The kids portrayed just want to party and have fun, without actually working to raise the money, and damn the consequences. Youth culture today – and American youth culture in particular – worships material wealth and fame, as well as the criminal lifestyle glamourised by rap music (which makes up the bulk of the soundtrack). The girls relish their bad behaviour, and seem to take pleasure in being called "bad bitches". The most telling scene in the film is when Alien jumps up and down on his bed – which he has covered with his cash, and his drugs, and his guns – screaming: "Look at all my shit!" Ah yes, the American Dream writ large.
Much has been made of the leading ladies throwing off their nice-girl images to get down and dirty. But I see it as more of a natural progression. Gomez, Hudgens and Benson have grown up, and are shaking off their Disney roots for more adult roles. What they see on screen here may shock some of their fans, but they're going to have to get used to it. Look at Anne Hathaway - 12 years ago she was in The Princess Diaries, and now she's playing drug addicts (Rachel Getting Married) and getting her gear off (Love & Other Drugs). We're probably going to see these three making similar moves, and good luck to them - their performances here are solid. But the scene-stealer in Spring Breakers is Franco. He's one of the most interesting actors around, making diverse choices with his roles - from 127 Hours to Rise of the Planet of the Apes to Oz the Great and Powerful. Alien is one of his bravest roles yet, and he's clearly relishing it.
Spring Breakers is sure to divide audiences just as it has divided critics. It's a little unsure of its tone, and the narrative jumps around in time and throws in touches of surrealism. The marketing campaign has been very clever, selling it as a flesh-filled, beach-based comedy romp, but the film also goes to some very dark places, which may put many off (those expecting Girls Gone Wild will be crushed after the opening 10 minutes). It's an entertaining film, to be sure, but Korine's ultimate message does seem to get a little muddled along the way.