The Bling Ring – Losing the fame game

Crime spree or shopping spree? Farmiga, Broussard, Watson, Chang and Julien

The fifth feature from Sofia Coppola, The Bling Ring once more sees the director looking at the vapid excesses of the comfortable-off, and like her 2006 film Marie Antoinette succumbs to the vacuous nature of its subject matter.

Based on the real-life ‘Bling Ring’, a gang of rebellious upper-middle class LA teens whose obsession with the celebrity lifestyle led them to start burglarising A-listers’ homes when gossip websites reported they were out of town, the film attempts to deconstruct concepts of fame and its pursuit.

Ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) convinces effeminate new kid in school Marc (Israel Broussard) to help her in her thieving pursuits, and they gladly blow the money they make in up-market night spots while wearing the high-end fashions they ripped off from the rich and not-so-deservedly famous. Home-schooled sisters Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Rebecca’s bestie Chloe (Claire Julien) get in on the action.

Rolling along at a good pace, The Bling Ring keenly demonstrates the emptiness of its subjects’ lives, and the self-delusion that has come from insufficient hardship and the worst of role models.

But there’s no drama. The heists are always safe. Rifts never really develop between the group members. We know from the framing device that they will eventually get caught, so there isn’t even much excitement in a “can they get away with this?” sense. A gun is found in Megan Fox’s house, but it goes off like Chekhov’s damp squib.

Once the set-up is complete, the film becomes as vapid as its protagonists, falling onto the fun drama side of the line between drama and grotesquery instead of dancing maddened back and forth across it as Spring Breakers did. As the Bling Ring become celebrities themselves, Marc raises the idea that America has an obsession with “Bonnie and Clyde types”, reducing Coppola’s argument to a first semester undergraduate film studies class.

The cast are strong for the most part, with newcomers Chang and Broussard impressing, but forced to speak in the bored low tones traditional of Coppola’s characters (including the ones she’s played herself… yes I went there), they drag down what might have been a more exciting film. Emma Watson gets some great one-liners though, and Leslie Mann steals many scenes as her The Secret-reading, Xanax-dispensing mother.

While Mann gets time to shine, the relationships between Rebecca, Chloe and Marc and their parents is disappointingly under-shown; however Coppola should be complimented for never seeing a need to discuss Marc’s homosexuality, so natural as it seems.

What’s truly shocking is how bland this film looks. From the director of Lost in Translation and the cinematographer of Zodiac, a far more visually dazzling film could have been expected. It looks crisp and bright, but the set-ups (with one noticeable exception) are so obvious and lazy they might have been from the shot list of a made-for-TV movie version of this story. The editing keeps the film flowing along, but sometimes the cuts from bland shot to bland shot after bland shot begin to exhaust.

2/5

(originally published at http://www.nextprojection.com)

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