Published Oct 30, 2013On the "Making of" featurette included with the Blu-ray release of Sofia Coppola's fifth feature film, The Bling Ring, one of her producer's points out that initially, she genuinely didn't understand why anyone would want to inhabit the world of spoiled suburban Los Angeles teenagers. The titular "Bling Ring," a group of teens that used the Internet to track the whereabouts of local celebrities so they could break into their homes and rob them, represent the crudest form of modern superficiality; the idea of celebrity as a self-perpetuating entity: people famous simply for being famous.
But, as evidenced by Coppola's self-conscious melding of content and form, utilizing sarcastic juxtaposition to make clear the intended irony of music video montage and Facebook photo displays as a facile dialogue for the young and motivationally stunted, there's more going on here than mere inhabitation.
Her gateway into this world is self-conscious homosexual Marc (Israel Broussard). During the interviews—the ones that would eventually comprise the Vanity Fair article on which this film is based—used as a framing device, he discusses wanting to fit in and feeling a teenage existential void by not fulfilling the culturally worshipped archetype of male aesthetic aspiration. His insecurities are presented with the most compassion, being, in part, the reason for his involvement with this gang of female cultural parrots, giving his character a partial sense of consequential victimization.
Less empathetic are the interviews and home life of Nicki (Emma Watson), a valley girl being raised on a strict regimen of faux-spirituality (her mother lives a life guided by The Secret) and bullshit celebrity philanthropy. Early sequences of Nicki and her live-in best friend Sam (Taissa Farmiga) lounging on a couch while her mother (Leslie Mann) holds up Bristol board with magazine cut-outs of Angelina Jolie, citing the pretentious actress as a role model, play as comedy, until we're reminded that his is based on a true story. Nicki's excitement about the negative attention stemming from her eventual arrest for breaking into the homes of Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom and several others is as funny as it is nauseating. Presenting herself as a victim of youthful ignorance, she babbles about wanting to give back to the community and possibly entering the world of politics.
The collective sense of delusion and looming emptiness defines the world of these teens, as does the perpetual absence of their parents. Rebecca (Katie Chang), the ersatz ringleader, is the daughter of a successful tutor entrepreneur, yet is failing out of school, focused more on rapidly obtaining celebrity status than acquiring any marketable skills. The irony here isn't ignored, nor is the many cameos and club scene montages where the teens make duck lips at the camera merely accidental. Coppola has created a scathing critique of a society preoccupied with tabloid magazines and television karaoke and dance competitions. The role models established for these kids aren't their overworked, mostly absent parents; their idols are people known for having excess goods and looking fashionable while getting arrested for drunk driving.
In a way, this loops into the modernist preoccupation with greed as an instigator of economic implosion. That these teens were able to break into Paris Hilton's home multiple times, taking loads of merchandise with them after each visit, without her noticing, says something about the potential folly of not capping the amount of wealth one person can have.
Though the social commentary presented in The Bling Ring is quite timely and interesting, the major downfall of this film is just how slight it is when all is said and done. Coppola tends to fare best when tackling a story from the inside, having a protagonist that's confused by (and quietly judgemental of) the vapid nature of those around them. Though she tries to find a similar in with Marc, his vague disposition and the world of the The Bling Ring is presented with a vision that's far too cold and accusatory to generate any sort of compassion or, contrarily, any lasting rage or disgust.
In trying to make a movie with an overriding tone of sarcasm and satire, some of the content has been lost in the form, leaving the very montages used to exaggerate the crudeness of this lifestyle saddled with the weight of telling a story such a tactic is incapable of sustaining or interpreting with any degree of discernment. (eOne)