Just based on its cast, “Spring Breakers” might seem like a fun holiday-themed movie. After all, it stars Disney alumni Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez along with Ashley Benson from ABC’s “Pretty Little Liars.”
So how bad could it be?
In spite of the cast’s family-friendly pedigree, though, this rated-R film is not meant for the kids.
The Disney starlets ditch their clean images and, along with them, much of their young fan bases for this film — a hedonistic plunge into the dark side of youth subculture featuring drugs, booze and a lot of bare flesh in a move that’s becoming all too normal for the former stars of family-oriented entertainment.
Written and directed by the always-provocative Harmony Korine, the movie about four small-town teenagers on a drug- and sex-fueled crime spree in Florida will shatter the young stars’ squeaky-clean images.
As Benson told Interview Magazine, "Harmony wanted to break us all out of the good-girl mold. For Selena, Vanessa and me, our audience is all in their teens or younger, so they're not even going to be able to see this when it comes out — it's not appropriate."
The soon-to-be 21-year-old Gomez, in particular, has gone out of her way to warn parents not to let her younger fans see the movie, which opened in limited release on March 15.
But she's calling the film an opportunity to redefine herself as an actress.
"I was getting kind of repetitive in terms of the roles I was picking,” she told Interview Magazine, “and I really wanted to do something that was completely different. It was a mark thing for me — like, ‘This is what I want to be doing.' I want to be taking myself seriously as an actress, and this was definitely a stretch. I mean, I'd never smoked a cigarette before in my entire life. It was really funny — they had to show me how to do it."
But while “Spring Breakers” might help diversify its young stars’ acting portfolios, parents of their fans are left to wonder about role models in Hollywood.
Although it is by no means a new trend, it seems like a habit for former Disney stars, in particular, to trash years of accumulated goodwill from parents and family audiences in favor of edgy, provocative roles.
“Transformers” star and former “Even Stevens” cast member Shia LaBeouf, for instance, made news last summer when he spoke about his sexually explicit role in a new film by the Danish art house director Lars von Trier titled “Nymphomaniac.”
Similarly, for the Sundance film “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman,” LaBeouf revealed that he consumed drugs to prepare for his role.
By the way, he’s not coming back as Sam Witwicky in “Transformers 4.”
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While Gomez, Hudgens and Benson appearing as wild teens in “Spring Breakers” might not be the most extreme example of celebrities making choices that could negatively influence their young fan bases, parents should be aware. As renowned teen issues expert Vicky Courtney says on the Disney Family website, “Teens can hardly go a day without being exposed to the latest news regarding Hollywood's poor role models. ... In a news junkie culture, there will always be an overdose of stories devoted to poor role models and the poor choices they make. ... Parents can't protect their teens from poor role models 100 percent of the time, but they can limit the exposure, as well as teach them to discern the positive and negative examples they are witnessing among the celebs and pop stars."
“Spring Breakers” opens in wide release on March 22. Take Gomez’s word for it, though; it's not for kids.
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.