I didn’t walk into Sofia Coppola‘s The Bling Ring needing a message movie about today’s celebrity obsessed society. We’ve seen that film and what more is there to say? It’s an empty and vapid existence and it’s plaguing our society as more and more people are familiar with who a celebrity is dating and “reality” television is dominating the airwaves. It would seem we all want to live any life other than our own, but this has been said time and time again. Yes, The Bling Ring explores this territory too, the hope is there is something that sets it apart.
For me, that hope rested on the shoulders of Coppola. I hoped she would bring the same level of enthusiasm in story-telling she brought to Marie Antoinette, bending the story to her taste and personal aesthetic rather than letting the story simply tell itself. What I got was a mixture of the two worlds that doesn’t entirely work, as she seems to be stuck between the energy she brought to Marie Antoinette and the passive approach she brought to Somewhere. The two styles don’t necessarily mesh that well together, though they do provide several great, one-off moments and a pretty killer soundtrack, just not an entirely well-rounded package.
Based on the Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales, the film focuses on a group of five teenagers who decide to burglarize celebrity-owned homes in the Hollywood Hills. The ringleader is Rebecca (Katie Chang), a celebrity-obsessed, Lindsay Lohan wannabe who first zeroes in on the new kid in school, Marc (Israel Broussard), first “checking” cars and second, heading over to Paris Hilton’s house while she’s out of town and getting her first taste of the celebrity lifestyle.
Tracking their whereabouts online and breaking into their homes while they’re out of town, Jessica and Marc soon bring along their equally shallow friends Niki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien) to rob the likes of Audrina Patridge, Megan Fox, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson and Orlando Bloom.
Their methods are fairly rudimentary in there is no concern over leaving fingerprints or strands of hair and they appear to only enter through unlocked doors. Of course, security cameras catch their every move and the fact they’re eventually caught is never hidden from the audience as their testimonials to the Vanity Fair reporter are heard throughout.
The official synopsis for the film seems to suggest this is a story of “kids will be kids” and “didn’t we all make mistakes when we were young?” Is this the nature of adolescence nowadays compared to the house-egging and graffiti painting rebellion from past generations? Does egging someone’s house come close to comparing to the millions of dollars worth of goods these kids stole from the TMZ-targeted celebrities they’ve been tracking? If this film is telling a story designed for the audience to reflect on mistakes we made when we were young I have to say, none of my mistakes landed me four years in jail.
On the flip side, there may be something to that notion. After all, it’s made clear in the film the reason these kids are doing what they’re doing is largely out of boredom, not to mention the rush that comes as a result. Either way, it’s not a fascinating angle from which to view the film. You can only watch these kids break into so many homes before you begin to grow tired of their antics, even when one of those break-ins is impressively framed from a distance such as the scene captured at Patridge’s house.
Instead, what I found more fascinating was to attempt to compare what they’re doing to the people they are doing it to. Soon enough these five are loaded with jewelry, new clothes, watches and cocaine and treated like celebrities at their favorite night club. For all intents and purposes, they are living the celebrity lifestyle and it’s just as soulless and empty as you assume their lives would be if they weren’t. With that the case, isn’t the film just as much a commentary on the celebrities these people are stealing from as it is on them?
Bling Ring victim Paris Hilton not only has a brief cameo in the film, but allowed her actual house to be used for the scenes in which the group ransacks her closets and parties in her entertainment room, complete with a stripper pole. As one critic friend here in Cannes said to me, either Paris Hilton is incredibly smart or incredibly stupid and it rings, oh so true. If Hilton isn’t aware of how narcissistic and meaningless she is made to look as this thieving quintet walks past the seat pillows she owns with her face on them, her magazine covers adorning the walls and the closest within closets within closets these lowlifes are pilfering from, then she either has an angle or simply doesn’t get it.
The film’s final scene seems to imply the problem isn’t entirely with the youths portrayed in the film as much as it’s a problem with us all. Throughout the picture members of the Bling Ring are questioned by various news and entertainment reporters and when the questions turn to asking one of them about her stay in prison just a few cells down from Lindsay Lohan and whether or not she heard Lohan crying, it’s quite obvious that while these kids are empty and soulless, society isn’t too far behind.
The performances match their characters with Chang and Broussard getting the bulk of attention and Broussard getting the majority of our sympathy as the only member of the group that could ever be considered a victim of circumstance. Unfortunately that angle of the storyline is never fully fleshed out thanks to a rather blasÃ© introduction to his character where, within the same sequence, Marc goes from an outcast to an insider thanks to Rebecca making an out-of-the-blue introduction. Suddenly, he’s within the inner circle.
Watson and Farmiga play sisters with Leslie Mann playing their clueless mother whose obsession with the teachings of “The Secret” are all you really need to know about the “home schooling” they’re receiving. And Julien’s Chloe is something of the Tara Reid of the bunch, thanks to her raspy, chain smoker voice and no bullshit attitude.
Coppola has dedicated the film to her late cinematographer Harris Savides who passed away following the film’s production. Savides also shot Somewhere for Coppola and the scene I mentioned earlier, slowly zooming in from a distance at Patridge’s house is the one shot most will likely walk away from this film remembering. However, it’s moments such as that one that make the break-ins interesting while most of the others are either shot in montage or as straight forward robberies, all of them bleeding together and adding little to the story from either an art or entertainment perspective.
I can’t entirely condemn the film for being “been there, done that”, or perhaps I don’t want to because I have an affinity for Coppola’s work, but if I’m being honest, this is a lesser production that says what’s already been said. Unfortunately Coppola didn’t put enough of her own stamp on the story to really propel it to greater heights as that is what I’ve come to desire from her work and what has really set her apart from many of her peers. It could be argued The Bling Ring is empty as a result of being about empty characters. Or, it’s just empty…