The Bling Ring (2013)

Celebrity-obsessed teenagers who seek to emulate their favourite stars by stealing, wearing their stuff, get their comeuppance in terrible Sofia Coppola production.

bling-ringUSA
2*

Director:
Sofia Coppola

Screenwriter:
Sofia Coppola

Directors of Photography:
Christopher Blauvelt

Harris Savides

Running time: 90 minutes

Three of Sofia Coppola’s five films have been about teenagers. The Virgin Suicides, her début feature, was a poetic period drama about five enigmatic sisters who committed suicide; Marie Antoinette was another period drama but also an explosion of colour and exuberance from beginning to end and featured a teenage queen being her own kind of rebel. The Bling Ring is a mindless 90-minute film – one that could have told its story in less than half the time – based on real events about bored teenagers who robbed celebrities, wore their clothes and posted photos of their stylish lifestyle on Facebook.

Even the premise doesn’t sound particularly enticing, and Coppola simply cannot make her own product appear less shallow than the frequent discussions about shoes and dresses in which the vapid characters engage. This is a kind of Sex and the City, but whose protagonists are not yet allowed to drink, apparently have no sex drive and spend their evenings in the Hollywood Hills where they steal a few items from celebrities who live in excess (and don’t even notice the multiple burglaries) before getting coked out of their skulls.

Although the group changes over time, the main characters are Rebecca (Katie Chang) and Marc (Israel Broussard), who first break into a friend’s house before ganging up with others to up the stakes and look online for the addresses of celebrities who are currently out of town – like Paris Hilton, most of the time.

A worthy point could have been made about the addiction some people have with following the lives of the rich and the famous to the point where they know when someone’s house will be open for a ransacking. The consequences of such a lack of privacy could have been interesting in a better film, but Coppola is wholly uninterested in the larger ramifications of her story.

 

In keeping with the omission of their surnames on their Facebook profiles, the director mostly prefers to treat her characters like cardboard, virtually forbidding growth and never focusing on the supposed friendship or camaraderie between the individuals. Right at the beginning, Marc is clearly an outcast at his new school, where he first meets Rebecca, but over time and thanks to a much-improved wardrobe, he gets significantly more attention wherever he goes. Yet such developments are not examined with any kind of a critical eye and may even be irrelevant to the shallow-as-a-puddle storyline.

Some big-name celebrities appear as themselves in the film, including the aforementioned Hilton and the star of Coppola’s other two teenage films, Kirsten Dunst. One would think the presence of such stars would help us identify with the group of teenagers who believe themselves to be entitled to the glamorous lifestyles of the stars whose every move they follow online. But there is a glitch, and that is Emma Watson.

Watson, best known for her role as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, is immediately recognisable as a star, which makes it very difficult for the viewer to take her antics very seriously, especially as she is surrounded by cast members we have never seen before.

But all is not lost. Despite a constant feeling of déjà vu, we can also appreciate some very crafty conceptions that suggest the film was indeed made by someone with a filmmaker’s eye. The first example comes one night when the teenagers are driving without paying attention to the road, and a car comes out of nowhere seemingly straight at us from the side, and the vehicle suddenly starts to spin. It is a powerful reminder that these children cannot remain in their fantasy land for too long, but unfortunately (for us and for them) such reminders are too few and far between.

There is also a shot that stands out because of its relative minimalism as compared with the others scenes of housebreaking. Rebecca and Marc arrive at the home of television star Audrina Patridge, run through the house, which has enormous glass windows on all sides, switching lights on and off and finally making off with their loot. The shot is unbroken, taken from far away though shot to zoom in slowly throughout the scene, while the action unspools in near silence, which is something the rest of the film could have benefitted from.

There is also another scene with gunplay that is incredibly tense despite the structural flaw that we know the character of Marc will survive to tell the tale physically unharmed.

One major problem the film has is its inability to make its characters human. In the past, even when her characters were the target of derision, Coppola put them in a certain context that explained their behaviour or at least made us laugh. The Bling Ring rarely makes us break a smile and mostly just bores us to death with a story whose conclusion is revealed in the film’s opening minutes. The friendship between Marc and Rebecca could have been fertile ground for an examination of any number of issues, including betrayal, which is hinted at early on, but we get no human-interest angle.

Frankly, although this is an improvement on her horrendous previous film, Somewhere, we expected much more from Sofia Coppola.

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