‘Spring Breakers’ holds up for us who live where Selena Gomez partied
On the 10th anniversary of A24′s first big splash, Tampa Bay Times staffers discuss Harmony Korine’s neon-bathed, bullet-riddled feature.
Rachel Korine, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, James Franco and Vanessa Hudgens star in the 2013 film "Spring Breakers."
Rachel Korine, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, James Franco and Vanessa Hudgens star in the 2013 film "Spring Breakers." [ MICHAEL MULLER | Courtesy of A24 ]
Published March 28|Updated March 29

When “Spring Breakers” released in theaters, the nation had just re-inaugurated Barack Obama. “Argo” had just won Best Picture, and its director Ben Affleck was not yet “sad Ben Affleck.” Months later, Miley Cyrus twerked at the MTV Video Music Awards, which we still really cared about.

Cyrus may have overshadowed the other innocence-annihilating moment of 2013. That was, of course, the appearance of Disney’s Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens raging and rampaging alongside Ashley Benson of “Pretty Little Liars” in “Spring Breakers.” Yet it feels like the movie’s pop cultural boom echoed longer (spring break, forever, y’all).

Filmed around St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach and Tampa, “Spring Breakers” briefly consumed local culture.

A group of Tampa Bay Times staffers recently rewatched the movie for its 10th anniversary and pondered questions modeled after the podcast The Rewatchables, which we’re fairly sure will never be doing a “Spring Breakers” episode.

You rewatched ‘Spring Breakers.’ How do you feel?

Gabrielle Calise, culture reporter: What surprised me was how I felt super nostalgic for the early 2010s, which is not a period of time I had previously felt strongly about. The glowing masks and neon bikinis made me feel like I was back in my high school bedroom scrolling Tumblr (RIP). (Editor’s note: Calise edited a book about Florida for A24, the film company behind “Spring Breakers.”)

Rebecca Liebson, real estate reporter: I was 15 when “Spring Breakers” came out. My friends and I had to buy tickets to a different movie and switch theaters. There was no way we were asking a parent to escort us. The film is a smorgasbord of every imaginable taboo (drugs, violence, money, sex). As a teen it felt cool and subversive. This time it just seemed silly. Did I hate it? No. But it did make me feel old.

Jack Evans, Pinellas County reporter: It holds up. Any feelings that the magic has worn off may be a sign of just how influential it was: The drug-cocktail pacing and saturated, hazy visuals established something of a house style for A24 as a studio, and its acolytes; the casting seemed subversive, but wouldn’t surprise now. It’s also weirder than I remembered. It’s a bare-bones parable. Plot points are few and mysteriously passive. “Spring Breakers” carjacks a souped-up, late-model crime drama, drives it onto the beach, lights it on fire and spends the rest of the night getting loaded and staring at the flames.

Christopher Spata, enterprise reporter: We’re used to indie movies looking like this now, in part because of “Spring Breakers.” I thought it was pure hilarity in 2013. That made me queasy at my current age, but I liked wrestling with my changed relationship to it.

Best quote?

Liebson: “Some people are about making change. I’m about stacking change … it’s the American dream y’all.”

Spata: “I got shorts! Every f---in’ color.” I have said this many times, and it never, ever, stops being funny.

Calise: “Spring break, fo’ever.”

What’s the best use of Tampa Bay?

Liebson: I loved Alien’s house. Drab and dated but still kinda fancy considering he’s a drug dealer. It felt like a relic of the old Florida. In 2023 the land alone would be wayyyyy out of Alien’s price range.

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Calise: Our water provides such a great backdrop, but I have to award this honor to the Sunshine Skyway bridge, our portal in and out of the super-exaggerated, super-seedy dream version of Tampa Bay. It’s tempting to clown on the fact that anyone driving from a college north of Florida would not get to St. Pete using the Skyway. Ignore that! No other local bridge would have the same effect.

Evans: The Skyway is essential. That the characters head south for what they see as a sanctified debauchery already gives some purchase to the spiritual overtones, but that bridge’s stomach-churning drop is a perfect literalization of their descent.

Spata: The girls hanging out bikini’ed and barefoot in the parking lot of a quickie mart on St. Pete Beach. They just aimlessly hang out. No photos. Remember that sensation? More than beach sand, spring break for me conjures the feel of dirty linoleum, gritty sidewalk and hot asphalt under bare feet. And every Floridian knows these sun-beaten little stores playing party music and selling a dream in the form of 12-packs — the dream that tonight will be the best night ever.

‘Spring Breakers’ gets just one Oscar. Which?

Evans: Cinematography, right? The most enduring aspect of “Spring Breakers” is color — all rainbow pool lights, water-damaged-postcard sunsets and airbrushed booty shorts. Benoit Debie’s camerawork, unsettled and unsettlingly intimate, sets the tone.

Liebson: Costume design. Yes, there’s a ton of nudity, but the outfits that do make it in are so spot-on for the era and that age group. Everything tells us something, from cheap Target bikinis to the matching “DTF” sweatpants easily purchased at a touristy gift shop.

Spata: Best Actor for James Franco: The “Look at all my s--t” monologue is high art. He’s got Scarface, on repeat! Though we can debate if CK Be actually pairs well with Escape.

Calise: I’d give the soundtrack an Oscar if that was a category.

Just one Razzie. Who gets it?

Spata: Worst Actor for James Franco. There are moments when Alien speaks with the accent of Benoit Blanc on codeine, and moments when he ... doesn’t. Seriously though: Gucci Mane is robotic.

Liebson: Worst original screenplay. I like the concept, and it’s a wild ride for sure. But this movie has no plot, no character development and the sparse dialogue is extremely cringe.

"Spring Breakers" was studio A24's first big splash.
"Spring Breakers" was studio A24's first big splash.

What is this movie about?

Calise: Vibes, man.

Evans: Temptation, lust, wrath — all that old stuff.

Liebson: The American dream.

Spata: It’s a dark daydream. What if you went all-in on a lifestyle no one should live for more than one week? Real spring breaks never fulfilled the hype of our own dreams, but in “Spring Breakers” they chase that dream off a cliff.

Related: How Tampa Bay starred in 'Spring Breakers'

What’s aged the best since ‘Spring Breakers’ release?

Liebson: The nod to cultural icon Britney Spears. That piano scene is haunting and ridiculous but takes on a new layer of significance given what we now know about Spears’ conservatorship, an arrangement driven by the greed and ruthlessness this movie critiques. Alien might be the original #FreeBritney truther, calling her “an angel if there ever was one on this earth.”

Evans: Yeah, it’s the “Everytime” scene, the fullest realization of everything “Spring Breakers” is going for. It felt ingenious then and prescient now — not just in Spears’ revival as a public figure, but also in how Franco’s croak-crooned rendition is the sort of emo-rap balladry that would eventually take over mainstream music.

What has aged the worst?

Spata: James Franco’s reputation? Or maybe the idea of acting completely disgusting on spring break? I’m an old millennial, we did some things to some hotel rooms in Daytona Beach, but from what I understand, Gen Z does not get down like that. A good sign for the future!

Liebson: I feel like all the bad parts of this movie were bad when it came out so I’m not sure anything has gotten worse. Perhaps that the spring break party scenes are overwhelmingly white and the strip club/gambling scenes are overwhelmingly Black?

Could this movie be made in 2023?

Liebson: I don’t think in 2023 it would work. I feel like college spring breaks look different. Wild, naked parties on St. Pete Beach don’t look as cute on Instagram as a trip to Tulum. As a period piece set in 2003, though?

Calise: It would feel completely different. Scenes of people rolling in cash made me realize this was before Venmo took off. Today, Selena’s character could order an Uber to whisk her away when Alien creeped her out. And the girls would have their phones out shooting TikToks. They felt so naked, not just because of the bathing suits, but because they rarely carried bags! Where are your phones, ladies?

Evans: I’m not sure that it couldn’t be made, but could a movie with this little plot and this much ambivalence find an audience with moviegoers who want familiar story beats and spoon-fed messaging?

Spata: Who’s a better Alien? Timothee Chalamet, or Austin Butler?