Published Jun 20, 2013Aside from her underappreciated, but far too concise and cold adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola's career as a director has focused on the gaping void within the world of celebrity superficiality and posturing. She's been prone to criticism, offering an unashamed female perspective and examining the quiet, incidental moments in life to create bigger picture ideas without spelling them out, which are often dismissed as "pretentious" by simpler expository thinkers.
And in this sense, The Bling Ring is easily her most accessible film, having the same thematic preoccupation with the inherent hollowness of celebrity and the dangers it presents to an impressionable generation, but also having the linear, tangible storyline her most successful works have deliberately lacked. It's also about something most people are familiar with: the titular "bling ring" of affluent California tweens that used the Internet to track celebrity whereabouts so they could break into homes at opportune times.
She uses flashback interviews as a framing device, exploiting dippy, contradictory philanthropic sound bytes from Nicki (Emma Watson), the most vapid member of the group, to add comic juxtaposition to the testimony of insecurity from follower Marc (Israel Broussard), the chubby gay guy desperate for the validation of ersatz leader Rebecca (Katie Chang).
Their industry adjacent, Frappuccino-drinking lifestyle free from excessive parental interference or, contrarily, filled with bullshit cult indoctrination in the form of The Secret, is given the full artifice treatment. The blogs they read, the television they watch and the adult role models they emulate are all obsessed with the lifestyles of people famous for being rich and wearing tacky, overpriced crap with a fancy label on the back. And, as such, their idea of success isn't hard work so much as it's getting into trendy clubs and impressing peers with their fancy new DUI.
This material allows Coppola the freedom to make her most transparently didactic film, commenting on the result of a YouTube generation of instant, albeit fleeting, fame. But it's also inherently problematic, featuring an array of characters that are downright detestable, even when given a bit of balanced heart, in the form of Marc, who is positioned as a victim of sorts, feeling guilty about his actions and routinely acting as the voice of reason throughout the film.
Coppola doesn't modify her style a great deal despite dropping her entry point of introspective, mostly observational and identifiable, young girls, utilizing the same montage approach to detailing the many break-ins to Paris Hilton's house and subsequent bouts of clubbing. Because these pop-infused, lyrical moments of actions made artistic are framed with judgment and contempt, rather than compassion and sensitivity, they infuriate more than they allow for reflection, leaving the film with a much colder, cruder feeling overall. It's far less appealing to watch teenage assholes make duck faces for the camera while holding a handful of stolen money than it is watching Elle Fanning quietly observe self-righteous industry tools acting like idiots.
Even the overall comic sensibility, thanks mostly to the at-home dynamic between Nicki and her new age, self-help diagnosing mother (Leslie Bibb), doesn't help remedy this disconnect, instead making cute something that's altogether terrifying.
Still, Coppola has made her intentions clearer here than ever before, allowing the key demographic access to the sort of criticisms and realities they need to hear. It's just unfortunate that broader accessibility and mass understanding also means an overall dumbing down of material.
In making a rather literal interpretation of a real life event, she's sacrificed her greatest asset as a director: finding the touching humanity amidst the seemingly incidental moments life hands us. (eOne)