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An atmospheric, blackly comic look at celebrity obsession
Sofia Coppola is one of the most interesting and divisive filmmakers working today. It seems that with every new film she releases there's always a wide array of responses, both positive and negative. And that's very true with her new film, The Bling Ring. Some love it, and some loathe it. I personally enjoyed it very much, and the more I think about it, the more I like it and would maybe even see it again. It's an interesting and atmospheric look at American celebrity and media culture that bleakly shows how we can think being rich and famous can make us "happy."
The film is based on a Vanity Fair article about how in 2008, a group of Californian teenagers (4 girls & 1 boy) stole millions-of-dollars worth of clothing and jewelry and possessions from celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, and others. It's a stranger-than- fiction kind of story that could lend itself to exploitation, satire, or even heavy-handed moralizing, but Coppola distances herself from the lurid material and simply displays it as a set of facts. It's a cold, deadpan film, but there's several fascinating moments of insight and darkly funny commentary that make it interesting. It's been compared to Harmony Korine's similar film "Spring Breakers," which also features several young girls trying to experience the media's view of what a fun Spring Break is. Whereas that film is knowingly repetitive in its dialogue and images and very violent and exploitative to get its point across, Coppola goes for a more restrained and almost documentary type of style. In fact, there's several instances where the main action is interrupted and we see scenes of the characters being interviewed after the events or TMZ-like celebrity news stories.
The Bling Ring is benefited by its central young actors who give strong, naturalistic performances that feel so live-in that they give an improvisational feel. The leaders of the Bling Ring are Marc (Israel Broussard) and Rebecca (Katie Chang). Marc is the quiet, insecure gay kid who soon is taken under the wing of Rebecca, who's troubled yet confident and cold-as-ice. Broussard is charming and subtly sympathetic and Chang is hyper-perceptive, smart, and cold but not without a conscience. There's Chloe (Claire Julien), the loud and outgoing one in the group. Then there's sisters Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Nicki (Emma Watson). It's interesting seeing Watson in a supporting role since she's arguably the most famous out of the central gang, but it pays off because of Nicki's larger-than-life, self-absorbed Valley Girl personality. Watson is the scene-stealer of the film with her smart and satirical performance that never goes over-the-top and always feels real, which makes the character that much more misguided and tragic. It's early to say something like this, but it's a performance that deserves some Best Supporting Actress recognition. Also very good and inspired here is the always funny Leslie Mann, who plays the flighty mom of Sam and Nicki and teaches them the ever so spiritual teachings of "The Secret." There's a scene near the end of the film between Watson and Mann that is just pure, dark comedy gold.
The plot mostly consists of the gang clubbing, breaking into houses, driving around, and trying on clothes. It sounds repetitive, and well, technically it is. But Coppola distinguishes each break-in with its own tone and style and you can very subtly see how the characters change as they become more and more comfortable with invading the houses. For example, the break-in of Audrina Patridge's house is all done in one, long take from outside, across the street as Marc and Rebecca rummage through all her things and run from room-to-room and eventually leave. Another break-in finds Sam cluelessly waving around Megan Fox's pistol without a care in the world. And one of the film's most telling and haunting shots comes when the gang is inside Lindsay Lohan's house and Rebecca stares at the mirror and smiles so genuinely that it almost seems like that's the happiest she's ever been. It's a truly disturbing and haunting moment and the film is full of subtle images that let you into the characters' psyche and ego.
But the glue that holds the film together is the dynamic between Marc and Rebecca. There's several poignant and moving moments between the two characters that cut through the film like a knife and let you into the ultimately empty and sad feelings the two characters have. Their scenes and dialogue are so sharply drawn that it reminds you just how gifted of a writer Coppola is as well.
So this movie just worked for me. It's not a film that's trying to dig deep into it's subject, and it's not even really interested in telling you all of the details about this group of young robbers. It's ultimately this odd, off-kilter tone poem that's beautiful to look at and at times surprisingly poignant and hilarious. (And lastly I'd like to mention the great and legendary work of cinematographer Harris Savides, who, during shooting this film, passed away from brain cancer. The film is dedicated to him.)
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