1. Spring Breakers is trashy: I'm not telling you something you don't know here. It's self-consciously trashy, but not in any sort of wry, ironic, removed way. It dives headfirst into its trash, wallowing in it, wringing it for every last drop of slime. This is a nothing movie about nothing people doing nothing things, but it never feels that way in the moment; it always feels important while you're watching it, like you're investing more depth and emotion in the characters than any of them actually have. You know how if you stare into the eyes of an animal long enough, you can start to believe they have human-like soul and intelligence? Even though they're really just thinking about food and being in heat? That's what Spring Breakers is. It is a soulful look into a world that has no soul. Everyone here is just thinking about food.
2. The story really doesn't delve much deeper than its title. Four college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) rob a diner to get money to head to Tampa for spring break, where debauchery ensues. They end up in jail, but bailed out by a local hoodlum named Alien (self-pronounced by a profoundly lunatic James Franco as "Ah-leen") who happens to be in the middle of one of those St. Petersburg drug wars. Some of the girls go home, some of the girls stay and fight and fuck with Alien and, well, that's pretty much the whole movie.
3. Spring Breakers is written and directed by Harmony Korine, the defiantly anti-commercial director who wrote Kids, directed 2009's Trash Humpers (which was a movie about people who wore grotesque masks and had sex with piles of garbage, shot and cut on VHS) and once made a short called The Diary of Anne Frank Part II that was "a 40-minute three-screen collage featuring a boy burying his dog, kids in satanic dress vomiting on a Bible, and a man in black-face dancing and singing 'My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean.'" So you have some idea what we're dealing with here. (I'm old enough to remember when Korine was a regular on Letterman's show, back before he was banned from the show for pushing Meryl Streep backstage. Note to young directors: Do not shove Meryl Streep.) The thing about Korine, though, is that in spite of his legendary not-give-a-shitness, the guy has an undeniable talent as a film director. Spring Breakers is nothing if not hypnotic, drawing you into this seedy, increasingly terrifying world and investing it in nothing if not sincerity. It's a bizarre magic trick: Korine is simultaneously fucking with you and also desperately trying to make you believe this is all important, to make you care. I'm not sure it always works, but it never fails to be riveting.
4. The four girls are mostly interchangable with the exception of Ashley Benson, the primary provocateur, who is digging the film's nihilist wavelength; for all the supposed "adult" behavior of child stars Gomez and Hudgens, they've got a long way to go to be grownup actors. (At first Gomez seems the star of the film, but Korine rightly gets bored with her halfway through and sends her home.) But Korine's muse here is Franco, who hasn't been this much fun in years. Franco's Alien is deplorable and disgusting, but in an entertaining, almost existential way. He recites idiotic poetry, plays Britney Spears on the Axl Rose-esque white piano next to his pool and gleefully inventories "all my shit," listing all the cool stuff he owns like the 14-year-old boy he always will be. It's a wild, giddy performance, one Franco invests with genuine, if clumsy menace; you're scared of him, even if you know he's too dumb, really, to hurt anyone from himself. Every moment Franco's on screen, the film is a riot.
5. Ultimately, Korine doesn't have much to say, but there probably isn't much to say other than "Spring Break!" (Franco has a way of saying "spring break" that hasn't left my brain in 24 hours.) This is an empty exercise in trash and indulgence and style that doesn't go anywhere and doesn't accomplish much. But boy, what an exercise. How odd it is that this festering weirdo of a movie is the most mainstream thing Korine has ever done? The man can make a goddamned movie, that's for sure, with whole segments that feel like David Lynch-dreamland crossed with a nightmare you had while falling asleep watching phone sex infomercials. All trash should be this loving and fussed over, and all trash should have some Alien at its center. What a Franco performance. He's lurkin'. He's LURK-in! You're probably gonna hate Spring Breakers, but I bet you love it, too.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.