Spring Breakers Delivers Drugs, Debauchery And James Franco's Best Performance Yet To SXSW

Apologies to the Evil Dead remake, but Spring Breakers felt like the first “Event” movie of the 2013 South By Southwest film festival, and why the fest didn’t choose to open with this seedy slice of Day-Glo Florida crime-scapades, I’ll never understand.

The Paramount Theater – a venue defined by the long lines of revelers wrapped around it on a regular basis during the festival – was busting at the seams tonight with rowdy SXSW audience members waiting to partake in Harmony Korine’s buzzed-about drama of debauchery. For the first time all festival, the Paramount staked its claim as like The Place To Be, screening The Movie everyone would be talking about immediately after.

So what can I say? Korine’s Spring Breakers feels like the floor of a Tampa Bay strip club. It’s sticky, slimy, dirty and has seen far more depravity and corruption than one should handle. Already a bona-fide classic thanks to a handful of festival screenings at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Spring Breakers somehow lives up to impossible hype. Younger audiences lured by the promise of Disney Channel royalty doing very un-Disney things will have found their Less Than Zero. They’ll also be quoting James Franco’s dialogue for decades.

And yet, if we’re being honest, Korine’s Spring Breakers is a better movie-going experience than it is an actual movie. Character development’s limited to a few stiff growing pains; the plot’s as shallow as a shot glass; and Korine’s chief takeaway about the human condition could be boiled down to, “Life is difficult, yet spring break provides a much-needed release from day-to-day pressures.” Clothing, of course, is optional.

“This is our chance to see something different,” Selena Gomez’s shy character, Faith, tells her sexy, wayward friends as they embark on a jaunt to a Florida beach that resembles the set of Girls Gone Wild -- a trip funded, in part, by a mini crime spree undertaken by Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson. And Spring Breakers often delivers exactly that. It’s a neon postcard mailed from the depths of excess, a hazy nightmare of how “paradise” often is surrounded by thugs and thieves waiting to pounce on the not-so-innocent. That’s where we find Alien (Franco), a self-made mobster who bails the bikini-clad ladies out of prison after a rough evening and puts them to work in his bustling drug trade.

It’s not often you witness the birth of an iconic screen character, but Franco pushes Alien into the annals of Hollywood lore with his gonzo performance. The metal grill and corn-rowed hair are but a superficial artifice to the gangster who adores his material things (“Look at my shit” earns its status as a Gold-standard catchphrase for a new generation), and he finds true soulmates in the bad girls eager to lose themselves on spring break (“forever!”).

I don’t think I’d mistake Spring Breakers for being a good movie, though. It’s pop-soaked schlock with ample style and a handful of stellar performances, notably from Gomez and Franco, who is off-the-charts amazing in his part. The film’s more surreal than recommendable, unless you grew up worshiping Britney Spears (a beacon of light for the characters on screen) and dreaming of a day when you can lose yourself – in every way – in the gin-soaked sands of the Sunshine State.

For more of our SXSW 2013 coverage, click HERE.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Sean created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.