With such films as Marie Antoinette and Somewhere, writer/director Sofia Coppola has carved a niche for herself as cinema’s premiere chronicler of privileged ennui. However, in her latest cinematic offering, The Bling Ring, Coppola steps outside of the insular world of the wealthy and bored to focus her lens on characters desperate to get inside it. My review after the jump.
Based on Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair article “The Suspect Wore Louboutins,” The Bling Ring tells the true story of a gang of fame-obsessed, materialistic L.A. teenagers who broke into the homes of such celebrities as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom, stealing nearly $3 million in cash and belongings. Perhaps out of respect for her real-life source material, Coppola has decided to shoot her young subjects in a more docu-realistic fashion than is typical of the teen movie genre, and the result is a somewhat wan teen satire/heist comedy that’s only as intermittently funny and energized as its titular gang.
This titular gang of teen thieves is played by a mix of young actors, both familiar and fresh, and is led by newcomer Katie Chang, who plays “Bling Ring” leader Rebecca. Rebecca sets the film’s plot in motion when she adopts high school newcomer and baby gay Marc (played by baby-faced Israel Broussard) as her new partner in crime. And when I say crime, I mean literal crime.
At first, Rebecca and Marc engage in petty car thievery and local Valley home robbery but then Rebecca gets more ambitious, setting her sights on the homes of the young and famous actresses whose lives she covets. In the era of the 24/7 celebrity news cycle, it’s easy for Rebecca and Marc to figure out which celebs are out of town, and apparently, even easier to break into their homes. According to this movie’s version of Hollywood living, no young celebrity has a functioning alarm system.
As Rebecca’s criminal ambition expands, so does her band of five-finger discount shoppers, which grows to include wannabe model/actress Nicki (played by former Harry Potter good girl Emma Watson), her adopted sister, Sam (American Horror Story’s Taissa Farmiga), and loud-mouthed friend Chloe, played by another newcomer, Claire Julien, daughter of Oscar-wining cinematographer, Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight, Inception).
Coppola shoots her cast in a mostly loose, non-editorializing fashion, except when she wants to catch one of the script’s small handful of catchy one-liners, most of which are delivered by Watson, who makes a striking impression as the manipulative, bubble-headed Nicki. Leslie Mann is similarly amusing too, playing Nicki’s similarly bubble-headed, “Secret”-practicing mother. Too bad the rest of the young ladies – and baby gay – are a bit bland, especially ring leaders Rebecca and Marc.
There’s a long, sustained shot in the film’s first act of Rebecca walking. In narration, Marc tells us that this is the moment he fell in love with her (in a platonic way). I’ll admit, I never really felt much of anything for the blank-faced Rebecca, good or bad. If Chang had played her as more of a charismatic villain or sympathetic lost girl, I might have felt more connected to her need to thieve. But she mostly comes across as a cipher, or worse, a boringly vacuous sociopath. Nothing she says or does goes any deeper than basking in the spray of Lindsay Lohan’s perfume.
I swear to God, if aliens out in space were to VOD this film, they’d think American teenagers had no moral souls – or at least no real concerns besides updating Facebook with selfies. It’s fitting that the term “selfies” came to be during the rise of this self-obsessed, millennial generation. It’s just a shame that my generation’s Coppola took such a detached, wan approach to a subject matter that deserves an even more energetic and biting satire.
The Blu-ray bonus features include “Making The Bling Ring: On Set with Sofia, the Cast and Crew.” Here, Coppola admits her goal of shooting her subject matter with as much realism as possible and I think that’s what keeps the film from achieving the teen movie heights of satires like Heathers or Mean Girls. Coppola and her producers also discuss the offbeat casting of Israel Broussard as “Marc.” The subtext of this section is that the filmmakers didn’t want to cast someone who would read as too on-the-nose gay. Too bad. A queenier young queen might have added more life to the proceedings.
The second and more interesting featurette, “Behind the Real Bling Ring,” takes a journalistic look at the real life “Bling Ring” members and boldly asks direct questions the film only skirts, like, “Why did they do it?”
The third and final featurette is “Scene of the Crime with Paris Hilton,” in which the dim socialite takes viewers on a guided tour of her once-burglarized home. (Which Coppola also captures in the movie in all its decadent, tacky glory). It’s fun watching Hilton pretend to be upset by what happened in her house when her smirk suggests she’s thrilled to be both in front of the cameras and connected to a legit, non-amateur porn production like this one.
The Bling Ring is presented in 1080p High Definition 1:85:1 picture. Audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The picture quality flatters the work of late, great cinematographer Harris Savides (Birth, Zodiac), who effectively captures L.A.’s sun-drenched days and hazy nights with this, his final film. The audio is also strong, alternating between scenes of nighttime quiet and a loud, propulsive soundtrack that includes Avicii, Azealia Banks, Deadmau5, Kanye West, Phoenix and Sleigh Bells.
Shot with a docu-realistic style, The Bling Ring is only as intermittently funny and interesting as its titular gang, who are often more bland than bling.
The Bling Ring is rated R for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references. It has a run time of 90 minutes.