Monday, June 24, 2013

Movie Review: The Bling Ring

The Bling Ring
Directed by: Sofia Coppola.
Written by: Sofia Coppola based on the article by Nancy Jo Sales.
Starring: Katie Chang (Rebecca), Israel Broussard (Marc), Emma Watson (Nicki), Claire Julien (Chloe), Taissa Farmiga (Sam), Georgia Rock (Emily), Leslie Mann (Laurie), Carlos Miranda (Rob), Gavin Rossdale (Ricky), Stacy Edwards (Marc's Mom), G. Mac Brown (Henry), Marc Coppola (Mr. Hall - Marc's Dad), Janet Song (Rebecca's Mom), Annie Fitzgerald (Kate from Vanity Fair).

Sofia Coppola is uncommonly gifted at depicting the empty lives of the super-rich. This has led to some critics to say she glamorizes the materialistic lives her characters lead, or worse, ask why they should care about the lives of these empty people in the first place. This probably wouldn’t be as much of an issue if her last name wasn’t Coppola (or she wasn’t a woman – I’ve never heard anyone claim nepotism in the case of Jason Reitman) and it is an easy way to ignore the differences in each of Coppola’s five films. Yes, they are all about rich young women who often see themselves as ciphers – incomplete people who find themselves watching their lives instead of living it. But Coppola doesn’t offer blanket sympathy to all of them (remember Anna Faris’ merciless skewering of Cameron Diaz in Lost in Translation?). The Bling Ring, while not quite at the level of her best films, is once a fascinating little film – effortlessly entertaining and amusing throughout, but one that stays with you for long after the end credits. Shallow, superficial movies don’t do that – but good movies about shallow, superficial people can.

Based on the true story of a group of rich kids in and around Los Angeles who for a year or so in 2011 robbed numerous celebrities of cash, jewels and stuff valued at over $3 million in total (and which, some of the victims at first didn’t even realize was missing), Coppola has crafted a movie for our celebrity obsessed times. I’ve already read comparisons of this film to two other 2013 movies – Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, another movie about out of control young women, and Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, about a group of lunk headed body builders who want their American Dream. The three films are wildly different in all ways except one – the feature characters who want the lifestyle they think they deserve, and are willing to rob, cheat and steal (and in the other two movies, kill) their way into that lifestyle. The strange thing about The Bling Ring, is unlike the girls in Spring Breakers, who have to rob the Chicken Shack just to have enough money to go on Spring Breaker, or the lunkheads in Pain & Gain who work menial, low paying jobs – the characters out of control in The Bling Ring are already wealthy. They live in mansions, they drive fancy cars, they party at the hottest clubs in L.A. – and they haven’t had to do a damn thing to earn any of it – their parents did, and just give them everything. These kids aren’t robbing to live the life they want – it’s about getting the stuff they want, from the people they like. It isn’t enough to have a Chanel bag – you need to have Paris Hilton’s Chanel bag.
The main character and sometimes narrator of The Bling Ring is Marc (Israel Broussard), who has to go the “drop out high school” for rich kids, after being thrown out of his old school for not going, and spending a year being home schooled. He talks to the camera – in the guise of an interview for Vanity Fair (the resulting article being the basis of the movie) about how he never thought he “fit in” – didn’t see himself as “attractive” as everyone else –which is absurd, since Broussard has the perfectly tousled hair of many a hipster. His is clearly portrayed as gay, without every saying the actual words, so maybe that had something to do with his feeling “ostracized” – although one would think the safest place for a gay teenager would be in the rich homes of L.A. More likely, like most of the other characters in the movie, he just sees himself as a victim because he’s been babied his whole life – given almost everything he could ever ask for, so not getting that extra little bit feels painful.

When he meets Rebecca (Katie Chang) he finally feels like he “has a best friend” – and is immediately seduced by the life she lives – with her beautiful friends like Nicki (Emma Watson), her live in best friend Sam (Taissa Farmiga), who are homeschooled by their mother (Leslie Mann) in the ways of The Secret – and Chloe (Claire Julien, looking and sounding like a Scarlett Johansson clone). They are all beautiful, sexy young women – and know it – and use that, along with their money, to get whatever they want. But it’s still not enough for Rebecca – who starts small, robbing unlocked cars of their wallets, and then building up to the houses of vacating classmates, and finally to the homes of celebrities. It isn’t hard – the can look on TMZ to find out when the celebrities will be out of town, and none of them ever set their burglar alarms, and often leave a sliding door unlocked (or a key under the mat). Soon, their inside the house of Paris Hilton – which unsurprisingly is a shrine to Paris Hilton – and other celebrities, using their closets as their own. It isn’t just about getting designer clothes and jewels – they already have that – but they want to exact clothes they’ve seen the celebrities wear to different events.

The Bling Ring moves effortlessly throughout its first two acts. Yes, it’s fun to be in the company of these rich, beautiful people who party hard and don’t really do anything else. While I don’t think Coppola glamorizes these empty lives as some have claimed - the most ridiculous being one critic who said Coppola shoots the celebrities houses like an episode of MTV’s Cribs, proving they have never seen an episode of the show – a more apt comparison to the show would be James Franco’s now infamous “Look at all my shit” scene in Spring Breakers. Her characters start off nearly interchangeable, but like the movie itself, they gradually become more defined as the movie goes along. The performances are all spot on – especially Emma Watson’s, who delivers yet another brilliant performance, this time as the most spoiled of all the Bling Ring crew, who sees herself as a victim of everyone, takes no responsibility for her own actions, and talks about all her “humanitarian” works, although she has no idea what they actually are (if you think Watson’s performance is an exaggeration, go back and watch last week’s edition of NBC’s Dateline with the performance who inspired Watson’s character – her performance is dead on).

So what is the point of a movie like The Bling Ring? And why should you care about these people, who live empty, entitled lives, awash in materialism with little to no self-awareness? The answer is you probably shouldn’t care about them – they barely care about themselves. But Coppola sees them with such clarity that it’s impossible to look away from them. If you’re like me, you’re likely to be equally drawn into their world and repulsed by it.

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