REVIEW: The Bling Ring

3 08 2013

“Too many bowls of that grain, no Lucky Charms / the maids come around too much, the parents ain’t around enough,” sings Frank Ocean over the closing credits of Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring,” the perfect cherry on her blistering excoriation of millennial attention obsession disorder. It’s a quintessential Coppola story, containing an opportunity to reconsider the corrosive society of “The Virgin Suicides,” the clueless lives of the luxurious of “Marie Antoinette,” and the hollow celebrity culture of “Somewhere.” With her fifth feature, she swirls it all together into a darkly humorous fable with the pop of a tabloid headline turned music video.

The story is ever so lightly fictionalized from actual events where suburban L.A. teenagers harnessed the power of the Internet to rob celebrities while they were away from their homes. Curiously, they chose to steal from people who were mostly famous for their own fame, such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Audrina Patridge. They take plenty of clothing and accessories with them, but breaking and entering becomes like a hobby or a sport for them.

“The Bling Ring” is replete with relevant discussion topics, such as intimacy, narcissism, and connection in the era of social media – just to name a few. Nancy Jo Sales’ book, an expansion of her article from which Coppola derived the film, provides excellent commentary that manages a miraculous balancing act between rich cultural criticism and the breezy feel of a magazine article. Most of that depth is absent, however, in the film as Coppola opts to skim the surface on most issues.

Emma Watson in The Bling Ring

Normally, I would chide a movie for cursory treatment. Yet for whatever reason, I managed to enjoy “The Bling Ring” not only in spite of its superficiaility – but also because of it. The film captures a vibe above all else, one that is essential to understanding the heedless hedonism of the film’s titular thieving gang.

I would have liked to have seen a little bit more character and thematic development, but Coppola seems to make the argument that these licentious larcenists don’t deserve it. She’s obsessed with conveying their vapidity, much of it in their own self-incriminating and extremely ironic words from real-life. But her most scathing critique of all is not with words but with their lack of them – there is no more pathetic sight in the entirety of “The Bling Ring” than the teens sitting around at a club mindlessly browsing on their phones.

While her luxurious and resplendent depiction of narcissism gone awry in a hyperreal Los Angeles scene does at times seem to delight in the same opulence, Coppola never takes her eye off the target. It’s often easy to mistake depiction for endorsement (just ask Kathryn Bigelow after the controversial “Zero Dark Thirty“), but there was never any question in my mind that Coppola really wanted us to loathe these characters.

They’re selfish and self-obsessed, careless and capricious. A large hats off to Emma Watson’s Nicki, based on Alexis Neiers of “Pretty Wild” infamy, for so perfectly conveying a personality as patently disingenuous as a pair of silicon breasts. It’s a deceptively brilliant performance and the one most in tune with Coppola’s distinct energy in “The Bling Ring” – ridiculous but so scarily unabashed in presentation that it’s almost a bit pitiful.  B+3stars



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