Monday, June 24, 2013

The Shallow Shine of The Bling Ring

           Once again, Sofia Coppola proves she’s her father’s daughter in helming The Bling Ring, an impressive portrait of cool kids making cool mistakes. Judging from the number of teen-aged girls in the theater with me, I was concerned I might not exactly be in Coppola’s target audience. As it turned out, Coppola’s script (co-written with Vanity Fair journalist, Nancy Jo Sales) and her directing style later had me wondering whether the teen-aged girls were within her target audience.
            The Bling Ring tells the true story of Marc (Israel Broussard), the new boy at LA’s Indian Hills high School, who is befriended by fashionista Rebecca (Katie Chang). Marc, Rebecca and their pals, Nicki (Emma Watson), Chloe (Claire Julien) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga), all share an obsession with fashion, clubbing and the glamorous lives of their favorite celebrities. When Marc discovers online that Paris Hilton will be hosting a party out of town, he and Rebecca break into Hilton’s Beverly Hills mansion on a lark and take souvenirs. This light-hearted burglary quickly becomes habit and soon the whole gang is stealing from the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox and Rachel Bilson (Oddly, I guess Hilton didn’t mind the trouble too much; she let Coppola shoot the recreations in her house!). The gang makes out like bandits, literally; copping pricey designer purses, shoes, dresses and jewelry, along with thick wads of cash which, I guess if you’re really rich, you keep around the house. Flashing their ill-gotten bling all over Facebook and at house parties, the ring takes it all too far and the law does catch up with them.
All of the young actors do excellent work in The Bling Ring, and I think we’ll be seeing more of Israel Broussard in the future. Honestly, though, the one starlet whose performance everyone wants to know about is almost certainly Emma Watson.
Many remember watching Miss Watson growing up as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films. Miss Watson seems to be handling this pivotal point in her life very well; staying in the public eye while choosing her roles carefully. Nikki is a great, if flawed, character. For now, Miss Watson seems to be playing off of being a grown-up (and sexy?) Hermione; she even has a cameo in This Is The End as herself, raiding James Franco’s booze supplies as the apocalypse rages. It’s too soon to say whether Emma Watson can transition her childhood success into a lifelong career. Maybe she will; perhaps she won’t, but based on her performance in this film, she’s certainly giving it a solid shot.
The Bling Ring is that rarest of birds; a well-funded film that keeps the spirit of its independent roots. Sofia Coppola’s use of photographic depth of field in her storytelling is phenomenal and truly unique to her visual voice. Ever since the homerun she scored with 2004’s Lost in Translation, I’ve waited patiently for her to create the masterpiece she’s so capable of producing. Sadly, while fun and thought-provoking, The Bling Ring falls short of masterpiece status.
The Bling Ring’s best feature is its illustration of a lifestyle-obsessed culture, not in its nearly passionless characters. The most emotionally charged scenes are when the gang tries on clothes from celebrities’ closets or gazing upon the stolen glamour of their reflections in a mirror. The intense scene in which Chloe finds a gun and threatens Marc with it is reminiscent of the French New Wave and exemplary of how these kids’ lives are so detached from reality. It is no mystery how kids can become this way. In recent decades, Western culture has made great strides in the worship of wealth, glamour and popularity, with LA/Hollywood at its epicenter. Coupled with home lives devoid of meaningful relationships; parents too busy and too stressed trying to survive; Coppola’s film becomes an extreme example of a new norm – and easily become a pandemic.
One would think that each generation learns something from the past, but I guess not. 50 years ago we had the Valley of the Dolls; 30 years ago we had Less Than Zero; today, we have The Bling Ring. Wealth can only buy off a degree of unhappiness, but it can never satiate one’s soul.
Because, and in spite of this, The Bling Ring’s characters are not engrossing; and the drama, frankly, lacking.
Sofia has shown she can handle the hard stuff; the intimacies characters share and the convoluted themes they represent. I’ll keep waiting for her magnum opus, her Lawrence of Arabia, her Apocalypse Now or her Wings of Desire.  It is coming, I’m sure. She is, after all, her father’s daughter – she’s proved it time and again.

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