As thousands of college students embark on their epic Spring Break adventures over the next couple of weeks, it’s only right that theaters nationwide will offer a theme-appropriate film this Friday: Spring Breakers, which stars Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine as college girls.
However, believe it or not, this film is not really about Spring Break.
“[Spring Break] is a jumping-off point; it’s a very small metaphor…it’s only in the film for a finite amount of time, then it becomes something that is more criminal,” said director Harmony Korine during a press conference in Beverly Hills. “This movie is not really in some ways meant to be real; it’s unreal. “
And he’s right. In this film, the unreal happens when some of the girls decide to do something criminal so they can go on Spring Break with the rest of their classmates. To come up with funds for their trip, three of the girls steal a professor’s car, grab a sledge hammer and fake gun, put on some ski masks and rob a restaurant.
“When Vanessa and I were robbing the restaurant, that was the most fun I had in a long time,” said Benson (“Pretty Little Liars”), who plays coed Brit in the film. “It was just crazy because that’s not normal; you would never do that stuff.”
After burning the professor’s car, the girls jump on a bus to St. Petersburg, Fla. and experience the typical Spring Break most college students are accustomed to: a beach filled with girls in skimpy bikinis (some without their tops on), hotel parties, pool parties, keg stands, body shots and the occasional recreational drug or two.
However, their Spring Break turns a dark corner when the girls run into a bit of trouble, get arrested and are taken to jail. A local rapper/drug pusher/arms dealer named Alien (played by James Franco) ends up bailing them out, and the girls get seduced into his world of crime, sex and violence. What follows is a raw, disturbing yet comedic film that keeps audience members asking questions and wanting more.
“It’s like a physical experience,” said Korine. “It’s like a drug trip or something. It’s meant to be more transcendent…more like an emotion…it’s like a pop poem with images and sounds coming from all directions.”
Coming into this film, all four actresses were excited and eager to portray these dark, twisted girls, including Hudgens and Gomez who carry Disney on their backs, and Benson who wears the ABC Family logo. However, the girls weren’t afraid to risk what their younger fans might think after viewing this film, which (Hudgens pointed out) is rated R, making it hard for the youngest of fans to get in the theaters.
“Scripts like this don’t come around too often, so when you get a chance to be a part of something like this, you just jump on board,” said Benson. “To be able to play these characters who are just insane – why wouldn’t you want to do it? It’s so cool to play someone who is so far from yourself.”
“I definitely wanted to do this, and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me,” added Gomez (“Wizards of Waverly Place,” Monte Carlo). “I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but while we were there, it was incredible…it was liberating.”
This bravery and willingness to leave everything behind and participate in a film that is outside their usual genre and comfort zone was remarkable for Korine to witness.
“The thing that is the most surprising and impressive was that they were all pretty much fearless,” said Korine. “They were all pretty much bold the entire time. None of them needed convincing. That was amazing for me to watch.”
The whole cast was able to pull off some perturbing scenes in Spring Breakers, the kind of scenes that make you squirm in your seat a little and hold your breath. For example, when the girls get arrested, they are only wearing their bikinis: They’re taken to jail in their bikinis, they stand in court in their bikinis, and they meet Alien in their bikinis. There is a scene between Alien and Faith (Gomez’s character) where Alien is uncomfortably close to her while she is only wearing (you guessed it) a bikini.
“[The bathing suits] added a sense of vulnerability to the characters…when you see them in jail, in that state, in a bikini,” said Gomez. “That’s a whole other element because they are girls, and they are exposed, and it should be cold. It’s not really a comfortable setting.”
Hudgens added, “The first day, it was kind of nerve wrecking being in a bathing suit in front of the camera. But then you realize you’re being surrounded by hundreds of other spring breakers in bathing suits and way less, and they’re having the time of their life.”
Making the audience feel uncomfortable also comes with the actresses themselves sometimes feeling uncomfortable as well. In a one-on-one interview with Campus Circle, Hudgens described what it was like to be in a three-way sex scene in the pool with Franco and Benson.
“You try to make it as comfortable as a setting as you can,” said Hudgens. “James was really great. He was not boastful or forceful; he was really sweet and comforting, so that was great…he was kind of shocked that it was our first sex scene (laughs), because I think he’s been around when it comes to that. But it was fine. I was so thankful that I had Ashley [Benson] there, because if it was just one-on-one, it would probably be more terrifying…”
Hudgens’ character, Candy, is highly sexual, enjoys drugs and is not afraid of violence or guns. She does a great deal of damage while robbing restaurant, threatening to shoot and kill the customers. But she’s also fun. She parties hard with the other college kids and does silly, girly things like doing handstands on the wall and singing with her girlfriends.
“The only thing I really find similar to my character is the girly aspect,” said Hudgens. “[The girls] have that child-like charm where they’re just kind of going through everything for the first time; they have that innocence to them. I feel like I’m always going to be a big kid. I mean, what I get to do professionally is pretend to be somebody else.”
She added, “Also, Candy is really present. She’s not thinking about the past or the future…I think that’s the best way to live: to be completely present and enjoy the moment that you have.”
Filming Spring Breakers was a different experience than what these actresses are typically used to when it comes to shooting other movies or TV shows. Gomez said they didn’t have to worry so much about makeup, hair and wardrobe, and Korine gave them the freedom to use as much space as they wanted and experiment with their acting. Hudgens described filming as a “workshop.”
Spontaneity was also highly encouraged on set. Hudgens revealed that a lot of the dialogue was thought up on the spot, along with the girls’ drunken, silly rendition of Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”
“So much of the movie is improvisation, which is amazing,” said Hudgens. “Harmony is so special. He sets up a situation and a feeling that allows you to just explore within that. It was fun…Normally, it’s way more structured. Things are planned out in advanced. You need to look a certain way; you need to hold something once you establish it in a certain way – it kind of follows the rule book a little bit more. Harmony is breaking the rules.”
Throughout Spring Breakers, audiences might laugh, become highly entertained, confused or even disturbed. But most of all, they will be stimulated and moved by the storyline and each of the character’s actions.
“It’s really rare that you get to see this kind of movie being held together by four young women,” said Hudgens. “It’s really empowering – there are amazingly shocking images, and it’s an experience…[audiences] are going to be moved by it. They’re not going to be able to just shrug it off.”