(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)
TORONTO -- The manic crowd for Kristen Stewart on Thursday night was nothing compared to the turnout Friday for “Spring Breakers.” Was this young, smartly dressed crowd there for the latest film by notorious provocateur Harmony Korine, whose last film was the divisive “Trash Humpers”? Well, yes, but really they were there for the combined youth demo drawing power of James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson, with the added rumor that Gomez’s boyfriend Justin Bieber may be there. (Alas, he was not.)
As the lights went down for the screening and the cast moved from the stage of Toronto’s Ryerson Theatre to their seats in the auditorium, the room remained bright from the flashes of fans’ cameras. Korine soaked it up, smiling and waving from within the bright darkness of the room. That stroboscope, playful yet slightly disorienting moment turned out to be an ideal set up for the film.
After the screening, Franco mentioned that Korine originally explained the film to him as something like “a Britney Spears video meets a Gaspar Noe film” and that is not an inaccurate description. Four girls (Gomez, Hudgens, Benson and the director’s wife, Rachel Korine) want to get away from their small college and go to Florida for spring break and three of the girls rob a local chicken joint for money to fund the trip.
Partying away in St. Petersburg, they fall deeper into a genuine underworld of crime and drugs led by a cornrowed thug who goes by Alien (Franco). The repeated refrain of “Spring Break Forever” is heard throughout the film first as a promise, then as an incantation and finally as a threat.
In one astonishing scene during the screening Friday, Franco serenades three of the girls, in matching pink ski masks and animal print swimsuits, from the piano beside his pool with a heartfelt rendition of the Britney Spears ballad “Everytime.” As the girls danced about with guns in their hands, the actual Spears version faded up and the audience burst into cheers and applause.
During the Q&A that followed the screening -- for which Hudgens and Gomez changed into slightly less formal but no less fancy outfits -- a number of questions from the young audience danced around the question of “What was that?” and “Why did you do it?” One questioner directly asked how Gomez could go from the Disney Channel to this.
“It’s a little different, I guess,” Gomez responded cheerfully. “I’m so thankful for what the channel did for me. It was an amazing platform and I loved every second of it. And I think everything I do is for that generation and that audience that has given me everything, but I wanted to see if I could push myself, I wanted to go to places I’ve never been as an actress. Harmony really took a chance on me, because I think I’ve been put in this little box and people kind of don’t want to see me in this way. And he gave me a chance.”
She added, “But if any kids are here, they should probably not watch.”
Another audience member asked Korine about the music, a collaboration between the electronic dance musician Sonny “Skrillex” Moore, who was in attendance, and composer Cliff Martinez, who worked on last year’s popular soundtrack to “Drive.”
“Sonny’s music is really amazing, it’s super-physical, which I wanted the movie to be,” said Korine. “I wanted a sensory experience more than anything. So the movie loops and I was thinking more about films in terms of trance and loops and micro-scenes.”
The film is another bracing piece of work from Korine, a filmmaker who simply refuses to be either defined or dismissed easily. “Spring Breakers” is both a total party movie and a movie that from its opening moments is all too aware that all parties end, or worse, there is a constant hazard to stay at the party too long, buzzing fun falling over into something burned out and wasted.
Franco summed up some of Korine’s intentions when he explained his own impulse to participate in the project. “Harmony really wanted to tell a story that not only was about kind of this new generation, but was structured and styled in ways that reflected the way this younger generation interacts with each other and sort of views the world,” he said.