The Bling Ring

 

Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” rounds out a trio of movies over the last few months that dig into the mystical fascination with the have-more culture. Harmony Korine showed in “Spring Breakers” that this mentality can be disgusting and terrifying, Baz Luhrmann demonstrated with “Gatsby” that it can be destructive, and Coppola has shown just how boring and silly this affinity for celebs, fashion and luxury can be.

Coppola has waded these waters before, depicting the lives of the glamorous, wealthy and famous in quasi-comedies that feel dull, mundane and simplistic. Yet to call “The Bling Ring” her most high-octane movie yet doesn’t say much. It depicts the crimes of five Los Angeles teenagers with detached apathy, like Coppola is staring back at the vacuous on-screen teens with the same expressions they turn toward their parents.

Based on a true story, “The Bling Ring” begins with Marc (Israel Broussard), a new kid in school, making friends with Rebecca (Katie Chang). She admires his style, perhaps, and the two pass time sitting idly at the beach, calling out to friends with the poshest of pleasantries like “Yo bitch.”

She passively encourages Marc to start breaking into cars and homes with her. The two steal wads of cash and select purses, blouses and watches with ease, doing so not because it’s right or wrong or gives them a high but because it was there and it was easy.

Before long they recruit Nicki (Emma Watson) and Chloe (Claire Julien) to join them on outings to the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge and Orlando Bloom. Rooms full of shoes, gowns and jewelry await them, and their inclination is not to steal, but to “shop,” trying on outfits and reacting to their style with the same “OMG it’s so cute” they would use at an upscale boutique.

Coppola rarely stylizes these fashion shows, often eliminating music, close-ups and sharp color altogether. Some of the most invigorating, arresting scenes come in just single takes, one a black and white web cam video of Marc trying on clothes and singing along to hip hop, the other of Rebecca and Marc sighted from a far off wide shot inside a giant, windowed home. Coppola’s use of minimalism flies directly in the face of the characters’ excess to emphasize the tedium of it all.

They’ve been turned into stuck-up, self-centered zombies hypnotized by images on Facebook and taking selfies, even as they’re being served bottle service in clubs and actually in the company of celebs like Paris Hilton and Kirsten Dunst. This absorption upon reflection seems to reflect how little these characters actually do in their lives. “The Bling Ring” will hardly be called as plotless as “Somewhere” or “Lost in Translation,” but their lives outside of this bubble are relatively non-existent.

No jobs, no romance, no sex, little interaction with parents, no real aspirations beyond hilarious pipe dreams. Coppola has done wonders in revealing that the most interesting thing any of these girls have to say is “Your butt looks awesome,” delivered by Watson in her perfectly faux Valley Girl pitch.

Broussard is really the film’s heart, and Chang is the group’s ring leader, but Watson is really the most fun. The fact that she’s arguably the most air-headed and loose is perhaps the hypocrisy Coppola is driving at, but she has miniature moments in which she casually unzips her hoodie in front of a cute deliveryman and shows just how consumed she is in this despicable character. If she wasn’t already a star, I’d say this performance was her launching pad to getting any role she wanted.

“The Bling Ring” lacks the surreal intensity or iconic vigor of “Spring Breakers,” but it’s smarter and more tasteful in how it declines to give us something “more” in this movie about indulgence.

3 ½ stars

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5 Comments

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  1. Great review! I missed Spring Breakers when it game to theaters, but the constant comparisons are motivating me to see it when it comes out on DVD. I was fascinated with the Bling Ring story, but Coppola kept too close to facts, never straying away for entertainment value…it would have been nice to dig deeper into the characters to know WHY aside from the bland superficiality of it all.

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    • I wonder if the kids really have a compelling reason as to why. In my mind they did it because it was available and it was easy and created a feeling of privilege and entitlement. Why do people watch reality TV and obsess over these tabloid stars? Is there a “good” reason? That’s what I think is missing from a lot of the reviews I’ve read, that they only see the shallowness and none of the depth, and I’m not sure what depth there is to expect. People have compared this to a heist movie in ways but I don’t think it’s even close to procedural in the way you would typically associate with that genre.

      I had read your review too and thought you made some smart points. You’re definitely validated in wanting more than the minimalism Coppola provides, and in fact I didn’t like it as much as Spring Breakers, but then I wonder what else there really is to expect of these kids.

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      • I was just hoping for something, anything! I feel like a lot could have been done with the character of Marc since he was the outsider coming in. Coppola tapped into the “I loved her like a sister”…but I wish there had been more to it…a fight between them, or SOMETHING. Gahhhh I don’t know. I still liked it for what it was, but I need to see Spring Breakers.

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      • Actually I do agree with both of you on that regard. They do mention the “love you like a sister” thing but it goes nowhere, as does her betrayal of Marc near the end. But there’s very little mention of sex or romance of anything of that sort, despite how all of it seems to be bubbling just under the surface.

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  2. Good review Brian. Coppola’s sense of style and direction is what really keep this flick movie. I liked her approach of not judging these characters, but I feel like we needed more background to them, as well as the story itself, just so that we could feel as fully-invested as she seemed to be.

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