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When Disney starlets grow up: Raunchy new movie is a cautionary tale

Published: Wednesday, March 20 2013 5:55 p.m. MDT

From left, actors Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, James Franco, Selena Gomez, and Rachel Korine arrive at the LA premiere of "Spring Breakers" at the ArcLight Hollywood on Thursday, March 14, 2013 in Los Angeles.

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

The new movie “Spring Breakers” features former Disney stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens as bikini-wearing, gun-toting, cocaine-snorting college students spiraling downward during an extended crime spree.

“Spring Breakers” won’t hit wide release until March 22, but the combination of two former Disney “princesses” in Gomez (“Wizards of Waverly Place”) and Hudgens (the “High School Musical” franchise) with unabashedly raunchy content is already generating a lot of advance publicity. For example, Sunday’s New York Times featured no fewer than three articles about the forthcoming film.

“The transition out of children’s entertainment is perhaps Hollywood’s trickiest professional maneuver,” Brooks Barnes wrote for the Times. “Changing an acting style is hard; children’s shows tend to turn on ‘overdone, hammy, jokey performances,’ said Paul Schneider, chairman of Boston University’s film and television department. … If Ms. Gomez and Ms. Hudgens wanted to leave their good-girl personas behind, they found the right movie. ‘Spring Breakers’ … is ‘Natural Born Killers’ meets an MTV reality show.”

Barnes’ article asserted that Gomez and Hudgens “find themselves at different professional stages and thus lean into ‘Spring Breakers’ with varying intensity,” with Hudgens more desperate for an image-changing breakthrough because she’s further removed than Gomez from teen stardom. Gomez told Barnes she wouldn’t have taken the role Hudgens played because it’s too extreme, while Disney executives speculated off the record that they doubt Gomez knew what she was getting into when she accepted the role.

In an essay about the concept of “fallen teen idols” that ran as a companion to Barnes’ article, New York Times writer Jon Caramanica hypothesized, “After ‘Spring Breakers,’ there will be no turning back for (Gomez and Hudgens), nor any confusion about how they’d like to be perceived — not just as serious actors capable of more than just riling up tweens, but as rebels playing fast and loose with their images. ‘Spring Breakers’ may go down as the turning point in the evolution of the fallen teen idol, an archetype for our times.”

“Spring Breakers” played Sunday night at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Prior to the screening, Gomez told The Hollywood Reporter’s Seth Abramovitch, “It’s not me wanting to quote-unquote break any image. It’s just me being a 20-year-old actor. I want to do what I love. The show I did was incredible, and I’m super blessed that I had that opportunity, but this has been a departure." In the same article, Abramovitch wrote that Gomez and Hudgens “don't just shed their good-girl images with the project — they effectively drop a 50-megaton bomb on them.”

“Spring Breakers” is rated R for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout.

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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