Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Bling Ring

For F*** Magazine

THE BLING RING

Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Georgia Rock, Leslie Mann
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 91 mins
Opens: 12 September 2013
Rating: M18 (Drug Use and Coarse Language)

Celebrity lives have always held a certain fascination for us hoi polloi. Since the golden age of movies, the luxury and glamour enjoyed by the stars of the silver screen has been the source of many a fantasy. From Broadway Brevities and Society Gossip to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to TMZ, we seem to have been taught “who needs a private life when material pleasures are no object?” The Bling Ring, based on actual events, follows a posse of teenagers who take the fantasy a step further, endeavouring to live the celebrity lifestyle by way of burglary.

Shy new kid Marc Hall (Broussard) arrives at a Calabasas high school and gets swept up into the world of his new friend Rebecca Ahn (Chang). He is promptly introduced to drugs and larceny, plunging headlong into a risky, exciting new existence. Rebecca’s friends Nicki (Watson), Nicki’s adopted sister Sam (Farmiga) and Chloe (Julien) soon join in the “fun”. Motivated by boredom, bravado and a magpie-like love for shiny things, the group embarks on a serial burglary spree, the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green, Audrina Patridge and Orlando Bloom numbering among their celeb victims.



This variety of “true crime” story with its frivolous trimmings seems like the perfect fodder for a Lifetime movie of the week – in fact, one already exists, 2011’s made-for-TV Bling Ring. Sofia Coppola’s take on things is, as can be expected, an artier affair. The director, inspired by Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair feature The Suspects Wore Louboutins, presents a heady world of youthful abandon and a callous disregard for consequence. However, one gets the feeling that she has held up a mirror to society, but all society seems interested in doing is gazing into that mirror, applying lipstick and preening.

Does The Bling Ring glamourise the illegal activities its protagonists are shown partaking in, or does it critique and examine it? It feels more like the former than the latter, but then again, this comes off as one of those “ah, but that’s how it was intended” movies.

“This is really shallow and vapid!”

“Ah, but that’s how it was intended.”

“I can’t bring myself to root for these characters!”

“Ah, but that’s how it was intended.”

“This movie seems to be trying to say something, but I have no idea what!”

“Ah, but that’s how it was intended.”

The fascination with Bonnie and Clyde-type stories is something that’s mentioned in the film, and “young people doing dangerous things”-type flicks such as Natural Born Killers might come to mind. Thing is, The Bling Ring is to Natural Born Killers what a Chihuahua is to a Pitbull. The frothy frivolity with which the whole thing is coated means any message the movie tries to get across, it ultimately doesn’t. The film focuses on the superficial acts of the breaking and entering bouts without delving into any profound impact it might have had. Perhaps that’s what Coppola was aiming for, less of a polemic and more of a casual observation. This approach will pull some viewers in but will just as easily turn others off.



One of the main draws for the general audience is definitely the casting of Emma Watson. While Katie Chang’s Rebecca is ostensibly the female lead, Watson handily steals the show, at once mesmerizing and intensely annoying. The actress nails the grating vocal cadence of Alexis Neiers, the real-life person on which her character is based; commanding the screen with an air-headed confidence. Props must also be given to newcomer Broussard, whose turn as the naïve neophyte inducted a world of flippant wrongdoing is remarkably natural.

Do the Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch deserve the Sofia Coppola treatment? Probably not. The film doesn’t so much analyse the obsession with celebrity in the age of social media and the reckless impulses of privileged youth so much as it waves it in front of the audience. Sure, the movie’s nice to look at and isn’t shallow and vapid in that mass-produced bubblegum pop way – but it still is shallow and vapid.

SUMMARY: There might be something worthwhile lurking beneath the surface of the rich kids doing dumb things, but Bling and you’ll miss it.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong

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