Spring Breakers is the most bizarrely lecherous and plainly appalling film I have seen in probably two years. The last time I wanted a film to end this badly, I was watching Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere and had aggressive diarrhoea. But what if this 90 minutes of cringe-worthiness is a successful attempt at satire? The Age critic Ed Gibbs says that if you even have to ask this question, you’ve missed the point.
In the opening sequence, Skrillex pulses, a neon sign sporting the title glows, and rowdy Spring Breaking ‘youths’ lick booze off each other’s nipples and butt cracks in a slow motion montage. We’re then introduced to Selena Gomez and three other Disney cash-magnets, who have only raised $300 dollars for Spring Break, and don’t want to be left behind. With obviously no other lucrative measures available, they commit armed robbery (paying for guns despite their bankruptcy), so that they can afford to get peed on and fed pills by oily men wearing codpieces.
I spent the majority of the next 90-minutes laughing, unsure whether the filmmakers were laughing along with me. Eventually, once James Franco’s white-rapper alter-ego started fellating a gun barrel, and a slow motion montage showed the Disney girls committing more armed robbery to the tune of Britney Spears’ Everytime, I decided it was maybe trying to be funny. But seeing as this came two-thirds of the way through the film, I was not about to reassess my scepticism.
Still, this deeply confused and frankly devastating excuse for entertainment has caught some critical attention (66% positive consensus on Rotten Tomatoes). Critic Jim Schembri suggests the film provides a framework for social commentary on how quickly post-Connecticut anti-gun discourse has dispersed. With teenage girls practicing oral sex on loaded weapons and wielding side-saddled Uzis in their bikinis, we are reminded of Hollywood’s historic eroticization of guns and their fetishistic status in popular culture. There’s at least a window for reflection, here.
But the film fails as satire because it’s ultimately corrupted by what it represents, and fails to hint at the alternative. It tries to be self-reflexive through the flashback of pious Ms. Gomez, praying hysterically at school, while her friends pass bong vapor between their lips. But the use of the clichéd anchor of christian morality satirizes even the reflection. The moral compass character becomes just as silly. This alienating attempt at thought-provocation (if it is one) falls flat on its poorly made-up face.
Then again, a PhD wielding critic retorts, what if its estrangement of any sane audience member, and its rendering of a new, gun-related genre of porn, manifests a “stinging social commentary”? If the film makes us recognise how embedded these cultural mishaps are, who are we to say it fails as art? We’re realists, Chuck. Any potential for commentary is ultimately thwarted by boring characters, uninspired cinematography, Instagram-worthy visual effects, too many bouncing boobs, tedious acting and the rest. If audiences are to adopt a reflective response, you can’t give them a laughable, forgettable product. My friends didn’t walk out thinking about gun culture, they walked out accosting me for choosing the film, and I walked out genuinely apologetic that I had played a role in their offence.