We begin our In Focus series with a much misunderstood film about bikini-clad students on Spring Break.
Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (2012) is one of the most underappreciated films of the 21st century.
Destined for cult status, the story of four bored, suburban college girls let loose on spring break defies its base expectations – sometimes by feeding off them – to create a work of deceptively perceptive brilliance.
One of the most interesting ways Korine exploits his audiences’ preconceptions is through his subversive use of casting.
Korine’s auteur vision for Spring Breakers must have taken hold when he secured Disney stars Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez for lead roles in the film.
Hudgens, star of the High Musical franchise alongside Zac Efron, had already had her clean-cut image distorted by issues in her personal life. By appearing in Spring Breakers, Hudgens was cutting ties with Disney through her own sexualisation, following the trend set by Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears (whose presence in Spring Breakers we will discuss in greater detail later this week) in the early 2000’s.
A year after Spring Breakers, Miley Cyrus would be the next Disney favourite to follow suit with a complete rejection of her Hannah Montana past. In fact, Hudgens’ phallic treatment of guns in Spring Breakers is mirrored by Cyrus’ infamous licking of the hammer in her ‘Wrecking Ball’ music video.
These acts go beyond simply distancing themselves from their virtuous Disney characters. These violent and highly sexualised presentations seek to both destroy and corrupt those personas.
Korine takes a slightly different approach with Gomez, who, by the time of Spring Breakers’ release, had not let her public image drift too far from her Wizards of Waverly Place roots.
That temptation – and fear of – breaking away from these Disney-values is reflected in the film, as Gomez’s character, Faith, wrestles with the moral consequences of their reckless behaviour.
The wrestler and the criminal
One of Korine’s more playful casting choices – perhaps unintentionally so – was professional wrestler Jeff Jarrett as the youth pastor. Jarrett, well-known for his guitar-wielding run in the WWF during the late 90’s, was part of the same ‘trash’ pop culture as Britney Spears. A culture which our lead characters were raised on and are consequently products of.
There is something humorous about having Jarrett as the film’s main beacon of morality, his voice ringing through Faith’s head at moments of doubt. Especially if you are privy to his pro-wrestling days, when Jarrett was cheered for hitting women over the head with guitars.
Korine also made the bold decision to cast hip hop artist Gucci Mane in the lead antagonist role.
Mane, who was serving time in jail when the director offered him the part, adds an unnerving sense of realism and danger when he arrives on screen in Korine’s dream-like beach noir.
Korine is effectively pitting his Disney stars against a real-life gangster, and the result is riveting.
In Spring Breakers, Korine uses the audience’s expectations as a weapon to intensify feelings outrage, humour and fear. In doing so, he proves what a powerful tool casting can be, turning Spring Breakers into an unforgettable experience.
Join me later in the week for further discussions of Britney Spears, MTV and Alien in Spring Breakers.