So I’ve never done a kegstand. I’ve never drunk from a red plastic cup. I’ve never ended a party by going for a streak. To my 13-year-old self, who was a compulsive re-watcher of American Pie, this means I’m still some way off popping adulthood’s cherry. At that age (and for some time after it) my sense of what partying was and how one should go about it was imported pretty much directly from American cinema screens.
This is nothing new. The US has cornered the market for adolescent romps since the era of National Lampoon’s Animal House (1976) and Porky’s Revenge. They had magazines like MAD to cover the particular spots and rashes of life between 13 and 21. Until Skins (2007) – a melodrama for good-looking people - and later The Inbetweeners (2008) – a comedy for everyone else - UK youth had hardly anything to offer in reply. And until this coming Friday, with the release of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, almost all the cultural offerings that made it over here from America shared a similar tone and style. The presiding “teen” spirit was a) overwhelmingly male-focused and b) largely a genial one, indulgent to the pranks of its stars.
I saw Spring Breakers at a premiere, in a room stacked with a soundsystem the compere promised would “make your ears bleed”. It felt like a party. And there is something glorious about Korine’s film – sex, drugs and violence painted in Floridian hues and backed by a mixture of powder pop and shuddering dubstep. However, it is not – unlike the majority of its predecessors in the teen tradition - an indulgence of American youth (and Korine’s back-catalogue, which includes writing the challenging Kids (1995), confirms that’s not an angle he’s likely to take). While there’s an absence of directorial finger-wagging at the young girls’ actions – which include robbery and gang-banging in both senses – the after-taste for viewers is a mixture of weird sweet (small) and stomach-churning sour (big).
What happens when the partying doesn't stop, the film asks. What happens when “Spring Break” does go on “forever”? And the amoral vision of violence and degradation it presents as an answer, exhilarating and often funny in itself, is shaded by the recent real-life horrors of the Steubenville case. That incident, where two jocks raped a girl and thought the whole deal funny enough to Instagram along the way, exposed a darkness in the macho excesses of US youth. Spring Breakers is at least critical enough to make the timing of its release a little uncomfortable.