A film review by Craig J. Koban August 8, 2013
THE BLING RING
2013, R, 112 mins.
2013, R, 112 mins.
Emma Watson as Nicki / Stacy Edwards as Debbie / Israel Broussard as Marc / Taissa Farmiga as Sam / Erin Daniels as Shannon / Gavin Rossdale as Ricky / Leslie Mann as Nicki's Mom / Katie Chang as Rebecca / Claire Julien as Chloe / Georgia Rock as Emily / Carlos Miranda as Rob
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola’s THE BLING RING – her fifth film as a director – challenges viewers with one thorny question: Can a movie about unrelentingly shallow, self-centered, and materialistically obsessed teen crooks be intrinsically interesting on any level?
The young adults that populate this film – inspired by true
events – care about virtually nothing beyond there own vanity and fanatical
imperatives to accumulate fashions and consumer goods while worshipping at
the alters of the celebrities that they prop up as societal gods.
THE BLING RING focuses on a generation of adolescents that
love celebrities not because of their skills or achievements, but mostly
for the fact that they are celebrities in the public eye.
In this way, THE BLING RING is successful, I guess, at relaying the
sanctimonious microcosm of this odiously unsavory social network.
having said all of that, Coppola’s film shows the pathetic
superficiality of this culture while never really directly commenting on
it. There is no doubt that
she utterly nails the portrayal of her soulless and needlessly egocentric
characters, but you never really gain an overpowering sense that she has
anything critical to say about their lifestyles of wanton, almost
hedonistic material-possession excess.
That is not to say that Coppola finds this culture endearing or
sympathetic; hardly, but she nonetheless fails at providing any type of
ethical critique of these truly dislikeable social fiends.
In a ironic manner, THE BLING RING is kind of a shallow film about
shallow people; more often than not, you kind of feel that the director is
so drawn into this sleazy world that
she seems to be almost vicariously living through their criminal
adventures with them. The
lack of a critical edge in the film is as sad as its portrait of Valley
film is, as stated, inspired by the reality-based case - and, in turn, on
Nancy Jo Sales’ wonderfully titled 2010 Vanity Fair article THE SUSPECTS
WORE LOUBOUTINS - of a group of fame-seeking Californian teens that
– between 2008 and 2009 – burglarized the homes of several mega-famous
Hollywood celebrities (the media gave them the monikers of “The Hollywood
Hills Burglar Bunch” and “The Bling Ring”). In all, they stole up to $3 million worth of cash, jewellery,
and personal belongings. Some
of the celebs in question included the likes of Paris Hilton, Rachel
Bilson, Orlando Bloom, and Megan Fox.
Astoundingly, the young crooks were never caught during their initial crimes
and, even more incredulously, posted pictures on their Facebook pages of
their scores and often spent the stolen money at the same nightclubs that
the celebrities they stole from frequented.
Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
fictional side of the film, though, is that the real identities of these
moronic individuals have been protected.
THE BLING RING introduces us to its five teen criminals, the
first being the leader, of sorts, Rebecca (Katie Chang), who lives with
her strict Korean immigrant family, but fantasizes daily of living a life
of regal and extravagant material pleasures.
Then there is her newly acquired BFF, a new boy at her school named
Marc (Israel Broussard), who on his first few days does not fit in until
Rebecca ensnares him into her tight inner circle.
In this circle are Chloe (Claire Julien), Nikki (Emma Watson) and
her sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga, younger sister of Vera), all of whom are
just as gung-ho about attaining everything from Cartier, Prada, and
Burberry to add to their closets. With
the help of the tech savvy Marc, this Bling Ring is able to deduce where
celebrities live and when they are going to be out of town, which will
consequently assist them with visiting their homes, so to speak, and enter
the homes that they initially prey upon have no apparent alarm systems, no
guard dogs, and no security on site, which makes it ever-so-easy for the
crew to slip in and out – while taking whatever they want out of the
homes – without being detected. Unfortunately, the ravenous desires to continue their crime
sprees do catch up with them, as one star’s security camera finally
catches them in the act with some decent shots of their unmasked
faces. It is at this point when the Bling Ring's fun times begin to seriously implode,
leaving a brush with the law seeming like an inevitable reality.
can see what Coppola is aspiring to achieve in THE BLING RING.
She wants to invite us into this parade of grotesque celebrity
mania that pollutes so many young souls, to the point where they will stop
at nothing to duplicate the lifestyles of those they worship and,
paradoxically enough, rob. The
film also rightfully shows these deplorable kids as those that freakishly
have very little remorse or fear of consequences for their actions.
All they want is to accumulate more – more fashions, more jewels,
more money, and ultimately more fame – without actually working a
minute to achieve such goals. In
many ways, THE BLING RING is absolutely chilling to endure just as, say,
the recently released SPRING BREAKERS was for how it
cast a nihilistic
light over a culture of young people that care about nothing but
themselves and their own instant gratification.
have been memorable and masterful films made about toxically dislikeable
people. There’s nothing
inherently wrong with films that are about loathsome characters doing
unthinkably loathsome things. Yet,
THE BLING RING seems more about propping up its despicable personas for
sensationalistic effect without really probing the real reasons behind
their heartless crimes. Again,
Coppola successfully shows what these kids covet, but never seems to
evaluate them for it. She
seems to sit back with critical uncertainty and at an annoyingly safe
distance instead of satirically going for the jugular of her subjects and
eviscerating them. The film
almost has a fetishistic admiration for the lifestyles of the famous people
that the ring steals from, which left me feeling even colder as the story
there’s no entry point of empathy or understanding for the victims or
the perpetrators: I cared little for the celebs that have the money to replace
what was taken from them and, yes, had essentially zero sympathy for the
teen cretins, all pretty much one-dimensionally developed without any
THE BLING RING has its pleasures, like a propulsive rock and pop soundtrack that permeates individual moments on the film, and Coppola creates small little visual vignettes of bravura invention, like, for instance, one virtuoso sequence – done with one static camera setup, a slow zoom and without cuts – that shows the gang robbing a glass-adorned house on the Hollywood Hills (the late, great Harris Savides’s cinematography is the real star here). Some of the performances are strong too, like Emma Watson’s turn as her megalomaniacal, short-skirt wearing, and cell phone fanatical teen witch that desperately wants her own life to be one big reality show. Leslie Mann also shows up in a smashingly funny turn playing Watson’s New Agey, home school teaching mother. THE BLING RING, again, embraces its trashy culture with an enthusiastic aplomb. Yet, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically for its own good.