** (2 stars)
wd – Sofia Coppola (Based on the Article by Nancy Jo Sales)
ph – Harris Savides, Christopher Blauvelt
pd – Anne Ross
m – Daniel Lopatin, Brian Reitzell
ed – Sarah Flack
cos – Stacey Battat
p – Roman Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley
Cast: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Mann, Georgia Rock
Why do people always want things that others have? This is one of humanity’s great disadvantages and, of course, the media exploits this. We live in an incredibly envious world, but is this a new concept? Not really. Victor Hugo said: “The wicked envy and hate; it is their way of admiring.” If that is the case, then the problem isn’t envy; it’s admiration.
Sofia Coppola’s new film The Bling Ring is a little too slight to be concerned with a tenet this ostentatious. So much of what Ms Coppola has here, however, is irresistibly fascinating, especially when seen as part of her ongoing pursuit of decompressing the lives of the privileged. Her subject this time is Nancy Jo Sales’ 2010 Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”. The events of the film occur between October 2008 and August 2009 in Calabasas, California.
Marc (Israel Broussard), who's just been transferred to Indian Hills, is immediately befriended by Rebecca (Katie Chang), a girl who likes to purse her lips a lot. They union over their love of outfits, and when he tells her that a friend is out of town, they drive over to the empty house and she exits with a Birkin bag. Soon, despite some of the weakest objections you’ll ever see on Marc’s part, they begin to look up celebrities' addresses on the Internet (Google Earth, in fact) and, well, drop in when they’re not around. Apparently, it’s that easy. Eventually, the duo expands to a group; including two BFFs, Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and the latitude of the houses they mug billows to comprise those of Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, Audrina Patridge, and, Rebecca's favourite, Lindsay Lohan.
Ms Coppola fixes her usual non-judgmental belvedere over the whole thing. The structure of the film is nominal. They steal, then party, they steal, then party. The film is not really a satire, though there are satirical elements, such as Nicki’s mother played by Leslie Mann. She never trivializes the circumstances, and yet at the same time it is obvious the film’s portrait of the business of stardom is a degrading one. One of the most beautiful scenes in the movie (filmed by the late, great Harris Savides, whose last film it was and of whom the film is dedicated) is when Marc gets high, tosses his hair and lip-synchs to Ester Dean and Chris Brown's “Drop It Low” in front of his laptop camera. In this moment he is clean; he is free. What the scene tells us is Ms Coppola knows that these crimes are so ridiculous that the material mocks itself. Therefore, she needn’t.
Ms Coppola’s tact with detail is what is so striking here. These are unlikable personnel with empty heads and she is able to make them seem surprisingly ample. Despite the film’s methodical pace, when car accidents, gun shots, early home-arrivals, news reports, bargaining and search warrants occur, we feel the trivia of their significance. A title at the beginning of the film reads “Inspired by True Events”, rather than “Based on a True Story”. One might not see it proximately, but there is a difference between the two.
And yet, there is a lot wrong with The Bling Ring, and it comes mostly from Ms Coppola’s incessant objectivity. She constantly cuts to pictures from magazines and Facebook, and archival footage of the celebrities themselves, and some even have cameos. Because of this, one is never quite sure whether she has made a movie about characters gawking at celebrities, or an alibi for the audience to gawk with them. The casting of Ms Watson can’t have been an accident.
All of Coppola's films – and I mean all of them – have concentrated on individuals that are sequestered from the world and she has always shown us their unfortunate, though wealthy, predicament with a coating of compassion. The Bling Ring lacks this compassion and there is nothing in its place. Halfway through the film, we realise that Ms Coppola’s impartiality is nothing but an excuse.
This is why that said title at the beginning is so sickeningly crucial; it is a pass for both inaccuracies and improbability. Characters and situations entering and exiting the frame willy-nilly doesn’t work with the world she invites us to inhabit, and no amount of exquisitely staged long handheld takes is going to change that. I recommend The Bling Ring with these reservations.