Harmony Korine‘s Day-Glo crime thriller Spring Breakers had its U.S. premiere Sunday night at SXSW, where stars Selena Gomez, James Franco, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine (minus Vanessa Hudgens) joined their director onstage for a Q&A. “I’d been collecting Spring Break imagery for a couple of years from fraternity sites and co-ed pornography for paintings and artwork”, said Korine, who wrote and directed the pic about college girls who commit robbery to finance their dream Spring Break only to become entangled in the dangerous lifestyle of a Floridian thug named Alien (Franco). “Here were all these hypersexualized, hyperviolent subjects with childlike details — nail polish, bags, stuff like that. So I imagined girls on a beach in bikinis robbing fat tourists”.
Grumblings in the audience ranged from delight to bewilderment. The pic earned only a few walkouts — a slim margin for a film this aggressively provocative — and audience members in the post-screening Q&A roared the loudest when Franco obliged a “Spring breaaak” in the heavy drawl of his character, based partially on St. Petersburg rapper Dangeruss. Disney icon Gomez (Wizards Of Waverly Place) drew a contingent of younger fans outside the Paramount Theatre as she walked the red carpet. Inside she sobered the mood when asked about taking on the racy project given her tween idol past: “I didn’t really have too many reservations. I had been a part of something for a while that I was super blessed to be a part of and I wanted to do something that would be different for me”.
Anticipation was so high for the SXSW premiere that tickets sold out quickly and lines wrapped around the block. (A priceless exchange came late in the Q&A moderated by SXSW head Janet Pierson. Pierson: “Do you know what ‘prurient’ means?” Korine: “No”.) Meanwhile, Franco made the most of his SXSW visit. After the screening Q&A and after party, he hosted a 2 AM screening and Q&A of his Sundance pic Interior. Leather Bar, programmed last-minute at the Alamo Drafthouse. Upstart distributor A24 and Annapurna Pictures release Spring Breakers on Friday in New York and LA, expanding to wide release next week.