Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Bling Ring (**)

Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola


This year's new Sofia Coppola movie dissects celebrity through an unfamiliar prism. In other words, this year's new Sofia Coppola movie is a lot like every other Sofia Coppola movie. I imagine that growing up with Francis Ford Coppola as your father can give you a pretty twisted vision of the Hollywood scene (after all, is there any other career like Papa Coppola? Universally considered a master but hasn't made a movie worth watching for three decades?), and it would definitely give you a unique perspective while growing up. There's always been an obsession with fame in all of her movies, and an equal obsession in pointing out its not-so-flattering qualities. The Bling Ring is another example of her telling this story, but its very far from her best attempt.

We learn early in the movie that this film is based on real events, and while the crimes that the film's main characters commit are a bit shocking, the fact that they're committing them isn't exactly surprising. At least, not in the materialistic, fame-obsessed atmosphere that Coppola places these characters into. The film's protagonist is Marc (Israel Broussard), a young fashionisto who gets kicked out of his school because his parents' travels caused him to have too many absences. So he is transferred to the specialty high school, filled with spoiled burnouts and tough guys. Pretty much, where Southern California routs all of the bad-case children they don't want to deal with anymore. But in Los Angeles, even the burnout school is filled with teenagers driving pricy sports cars, blasting Kanye's "All of the Lights" and wearing $400 sunglasses.

Marc doesn't have any friends at his new school and isn't exactly great at making them. Luckily, he meets Rebecca (Katie Chang), a peppy troublemaker who takes to Marc's shy demeanor and invites him to hang out with her and her friends, which includes the rough, smokey-voiced Chloe (Claire Julien), the rebellious Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and Nicki (Emma Watson), a young wannabe model with the face of an angel, but enough vanity to make 'Ye blush. Marc joins the group as they simply walk into clubs they're too young to get into (Chlow knows the owner), go shopping on Sunset Boulevard (all of them come from money) and go to parties primed with beer and cocaine. It's pretty obvious that these are young kids that can get mostly anything that they want and have no problem taking advantage of that. Whether it be their looks or their status, there's no luxury they aren't willing to ask for.

One day, as Marc and Rebecca hang out in her room, listening to rap and smoking weed, Rebecca asks Marc to look up Paris Hilton's address. He's able to find it pretty easily on Google, where he's also able to find out rather easily that Hilton will be out of town. Rebecca says they should go there, very casually as if she was saying they should go to the movies. They show up and the door's open. Suddenly, they're given an uninvited glimpse into the swanky world of celebrity, taking a few pieces of clothes and jewelry for the ride home. Marc and Rebecca tell the rest of the crew about their adventure, and as soon as Paris is out of town again, they're back in her home, even using her champaign room to pole dance. But the more they visit Paris' paradise, they begin taking more and more, taking cars and large amounts of petty cash. They start going into other celebs homes: Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and Lindsey Lohan - their actions more brazen.

Safe to say, the actions of these teenagers spins out of control, but Coppola always keeps the tone mum. There is not the alarmist, anarchistic nature that was key to Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers earlier this year, another film about young people going out of their minds when the adults aren't watching. But Spring Breakers isn't the greatest foil to Bling Ring, mostly because Korine is his own animal of a filmmaker, and I don't think he has any peers to the films he's always making. With Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola is very obviously making comment on the celeb-obsessed society that these young people live in. They don't feel like they're breaking into these celebrities' homes, they feel like they're inviting themselves in. It makes sense that Rebecca's idol is Lindsey Lohan, she seems to look forward to her eventual downward spiral.

I find this story fascinating, but not exactly because of the actions of Rebecca and crew. More than anything, that they were able to slip into these homes and take thousands of dollars worth of property, and most of the time these celebs wouldn't even notice. They were able to go into Paris Hilton's six (SIX!) times and pretty much got away with it every time. But Coppola doesn't find the need to imbue any of this activity with any suspense. It wouldn't be the first time Coppola subverted the more interesting tale to focus on the more mundane aspects, but Bling Ring seems to be screaming for something slightly thrilling, a little excitement. All Coppola really cares about is the dissection of these young people and their jaded culture; but her vision is less pressing than it should be, and what we're left with is a film that has a beginning, a middle and an end, and once the credits roll its pretty instantly forgettable.

The film has its sweet moments. As the film's moral center, Israel Broussard's Marc is self-conscious but friendly, totally willing to do whatever it takes to keep himself in the posse, and Broussard's turn keeps the film more watchable since he's the one character who's not totally vapid. The constant hints to his homosexuality are never addressed in any straight forward way, and I prefer it that way (Coppola has always treated those kind of personal details about her characters with the same pleasantly delicate touch). I think what drove most people to watch Bling Ring was Emma Watson in the first role where she fully employs her beauty and takes advantage of her sexuality. But Watson doesn't have much to do otherwise, and she's left to be the film's eye candy, a position which she may already be overqualified.

But I'll save the best for last: My absolute favorite part of Bling Ring was 41-year-old Leslie Mann playing Laurie, Nicki's sunshine-bright mother. She gives Nicki and Sam a light tap on the wrist when they party on a school night, and then home schools them with lectures based on Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret". It's a fascinating role that only has about fifteen minutes of actual screen time, and Mann plays it perfectly. She's absolutely thrilled that her high school daughter will go out to a club to meet a possible modeling manager, and can't wait to cut in on Nicki's magazine interview after she gets arrested. These are the kinds of roles that Leslie Mann knocks out of the park consistently, and she does it once again here. Too bad the rest of the movie couldn't rise to that level of excellence.

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