Review: The Bling Ring

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The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola’s latest film, goes with her previous film, Somewhere, like a matched set. As with that film, The Bling Ring is about a certain kind of Southern California malaise, a kind of woozy torpor that settles over the young, rendering them incapable of introspection.

Based on the true story of a group of teenagers that burglarized the homes of wealthy celebrities, Coppola’s film doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what I suppose she’s trying to get at: the national obsession with celebrities, and rampant consumerism. Instead it’s an inert film, offering pop psychology and an often mocking tone.

The script centers mostly on Mark (Israel Broussard), a friendless boy who starts attending Indian Hills High School, known by the students as “dropout school.” He befriends Rebecca (Katie Chang), and they share a passion for celebrities and designer fashion. Broussard’s sexuality is indeterminate, but he tells an interviewer that he loved Chang like a sister and likes wearing pink pumps.

He is introduced to Chang’s inner circle, which includes a sharp-tongued Valley girl (Emma Watson) and her foster sister (Tarissa Farmiga), and Chloe (Claire Julien). They have a lot of drug-fueled fun. One day, while looking on the Internet, Broussard tells Chang that Paris Hilton is out of town. He Googles her address, and they decide to pay a late-night call. The key is under the mat, and there are no security alarms. Chang is excited to go through Hilton’s stuff, and liberates some of it.

Emboldened, and the gang enlarged, they visit Hilton’s house again, and everyone takes what they want (Broussard balks when Chang wants to take her chihuahua). They decide to go to other celebrity’s homes, again just walking in, and steal jewelry and clothes, even a gun from Megan Fox’s house. They brag about it to their friends and put pictures of them and the loot on Facebook, so it isn’t hard to catch them.

This is the second film this year about a group of vapid girls. But unlike Spring Breakers, which vibrates with intensity, The Bling Ring just sits there, offering no insights to its protagonists. Broussard is the only character that has any introspection; the girls are cyphers. Chang, in particular, though the ringleader, is vacant. Coppola often seems to mocking the characters, especially Watson’s mother (Leslie Mann), who home schools her kids using the philosophy of “The Secret.”

I should add that Watson, though her character is written as some kind of parody, manages to create a character out of nothing. She employs a wickedly funny California accent, and her speech detailing how she wants to become a world leader creeps to the edge of satire without going over. I loved her little squeal when she enters Hilton’s shoe closet–“Look at all the Louboutins!”

The movie doesn’t so much end as trail off, with a funny bit of information that Watson ends up sharing a cell block with one of her victims, Lindsay Lohan. But as the movie ended I realized I didn’t really know anything more about these girls than I could have imagined from TMZ reports.

Also, I know this is based on true events, but I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that celebrities would have extensive security camera systems, but leave their doors unlocked and have no alarms. One of them even has a safe that is left open, which kind of defeats the purpose of a safe.

I would call this film a disappointment, but I haven’t really liked Coppola’s string of Marie Antoinette, Somewhere, and now this.

My grade for The Bling Ring: C-

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

8 responses »

  1. I completely understand the open safes. When you’re a celebrity, in your insular world, you believe nothing can harm you. Who would rob Paris Hilton? Who would even got her home?…she’s royalty, after all.

  2. Then why go to the trouble of buying a safe (it wasn’t a built-in-the-wall type)? Why not leave them in a dresser drawer? And why install security cameras but not an alarm system? And celebrities sure leave a lot of cash in their houses.

  3. Because celebrities don’t design or buy any of their own things. You think they even *know* there’s a safe in the house? That’s the assistant’s job.

  4. I actually liked this a lot, and since the comparison with Spring Breakers is inevitable, I’ll go ahead and say that I think this is a much more substantial film than Korine’s.

    I think the difference between the two has a lot to do with why I liked The Bling Ring so much more. Coppola has a way of dealing with sensational topics while stripping away the sensationalism. For example, I liked the matter-of-fact way she shows the break-ins, not playing up the suspense angle at all or even really playing up the feeling of taboo or forbidden fruit … they just find the keys under the mat and walk in. Like it was nothing.

    Same thing during Watson’s press interview later in the film. She has her mom and her publicists with her, and the whole scene couldn’t be more obnoxiously mundane. I think the instincts of a lesser filmmaker would have been to make that scene more slick, like a real PR package, but Coppola doesn’t do that. She just lets it play out, and the satire is all the stronger because it’s so amateurish, so incompetent.

    Korine, on the other hand, does the opposite. He builds his characters up, plays up the sensationalism, tries to mythologize his characters in his own way. Coppola keeps popping their bubbles, with surgical precision. She’s like a double agent in a low level class war, born into the world of the rich and famous but constantly selling her people out. No one even seems to be realizing that she’s doing it, and it even took me awhile to catch on, but her last three movies have been relentless in their exposure of the vapidity of these people and that world.

  5. She’s like a double agent in a low level class war, born into the world of the rich and famous but constantly selling her people out. No one even seems to be realizing that she’s doing it, and it even took me awhile to catch on, but her last three movies have been relentless in their exposure of the vapidity of these people and that world.

    Beautiful.

  6. It feels like we’ve been at odds a lot lately, actually. I’m not sure I can even bring myself to watch Much Ado About Nothing, despite your recommendation.

    But this has a good chance of being a top-5 film on the year for me.

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