One of Netflix’s most recent additions to their streaming service sees James Franco in one of his best career performances. Spring Breakers, written and directed by Harmony Korine, has come to the streaming giant, and while it features a strong female ensemble, it also introduces Franco as the character Alien in what one critic says, “features James Franco at his absolute smarmiest.”
As Alien in Spring Breakers, James Franco studied how to become a rapper, since Alien is a wanna-be rapper, as well as a drug hustler and arms dealer. Franco studied rapper RiFF RAFF in preparation for the movie, as well as underground rap artist Dangeruss.
James Franco has long been known to truly get into his characters. For his role as legendary actor James Dean, Franco went from a never-been smoker to smoking two packs a day, learned to play the guitar and bongos, and even cut off all communication with his family so he could truly immerse himself into the role. For his role in Sonny, Franco met with sex workers and former prostitutes. For City by the Sea, he portrayed a homeless drug addict, so Franco took to living on the streets and talked to drug addicts to understand their experience.
Spring Breakers follows four college students trying to fund their spring break trip to Florida. This quartet is comprised of Ashley Benson as Brit, Rachel Korine as Cotty, and, in surprising turns, former Disney actresses Vanessa Hudgens as Candy and Selena Gomez plays Faith. Benson, Korine, and Hudgens are extremely wild, while Gomez’s Faith is a religious girl struggling to remain pure. Fed up with not being able to attend spring break, Brit and Candy decide to take matters into their own hands and after getting high on cocaine, they decide to rob a local restaurant to fund their trip.
The girls finally arrive at spring break, where they attend wild parties. After one particularly crazy party, the group ends up getting arrested for narcotics. But to their surprise comes Alien to the rescue, a sleazy scumbag who wants to bring the girls into his life. He takes them to one of the local clubs that is frequented by gang members, as Faith begins to have second thoughts about the group’s actions. The girls continue to get deeper and deeper into Alien’s lifestyle and things go from bad to worse when Alien’s rival, Big Arch, comes into the picture, threatening not only Alien, but the spring break girls.
The movie itself was met with mixed reactions, though James Franco’s performance was widely praised. Producers of the movie felt his performance was so good they even began an Academy Award campaign for him for Best Supporting Actor. While the Oscar nomination never materialized, Franco did go on to win numerous awards for his portrayal as the slimy Alien. Franco won Best Supporting Actor at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, at the National Society of Film Critics Awards, and in the Village Voice Film Poll.
Most of the shock towards Spring Breakers came from Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, both of whom seemed desperate to want to put their Disney past behind them. Yet shock has always been one of the primary motivators with the films of Harmony Korine. The controversial filmmaker first made a name for himself as the writer of 1995’s Kids, then went on to write and direct such strange oddities as Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy. Most recently, Korine wrote and directed 2019’s The Beach Bum, with Matthew McConaughey as the fittingly named poet known as Moondog.
James Franco’s career was already on the upswing by the time Spring Breakers was released. Pineapple Express had Franco fans laughing, and earned the actor a Golden Globe nomination for the role. Franco had also just come off his performance in 127 Hours, a movie which saw him get an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Since Spring Breakers, Franco has gone on to other popular films such as Of Mice and Men, The Interview, 11.22.63, and The Disaster Artist, which he also directed. Most recently, Franco starred as twins Vincent and Frankie Martino in the TV series The Deuce, which is set in the 1970s and 1980s New York and follows the Golden Age of Porn during its rise and fall in New York City.
If you are in the mood to see James Franco at his sleazy best, and a strange neon-soaked excursion from provocateur Harmony Korine, check out Spring Breakers on Netflix.