SIFF Film Review – The Bling Ring
It turns out that if you raise your kids in Los Angeles with little-to-no supervision, home school them based on the principles of The Secret, get divorced, or move around a lot, your children are at risk for becoming entitled, drug-using, sociopathic thieves. Or not. There’s no guaranteed recipe for failure. You can do all the right things and your child can still end up in jail after robbing starlets of all their finery. Is it society that drives kids to want all of the flashy things they see on reality television, or is it the parents who fail to instill real values? In a culture where shopping is viewed as a fun family activity, who takes the blame when young people will do anything to have the status markers they view as rightfully theirs?
The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola’s new movie—which closed out the Seattle International Film Festival—is about such a group of teens. “Based on real events,” The Bling Ring is the story of Marc (Israel Broussard), the new kid in town who’s just looking to make some friends. He ends up being approached by Rebecca (Katie Chang), who seems to be motivated more by a need for a sidekick than a desire for true friendship. But a friend is a friend, and Marc is in no position to reject her. Rebecca is a bit of a wild child and is focused on easy ways to get the things she wants. She talks Marc into committing mild acts of thievery with her until their actions escalate, and they end up breaking and entering the homes of famous people. Which is actually pretty easy; they are star-obsessed and use the Internet to figure out when A- and B-listers will be out of town. It’s also a fairly simple matter for them to glean celebrity addresses off the web. They just show up, find an open entrance, and take what they want. Eventually, they include other friends—Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and Chloe (Claire Julien)—all of whom seem to share Rebecca’s sense of entitlement. Marc is the only one who seems to have any idea that what they are doing is wrong or dangerous, but in the end even he becomes seduced by the thrill of being so close to the trappings of stardom.
There was a made-for-television movie (also called The Bling Ring) and an episode of American Greed (which is my current obsession) based on the same real-life events, and I can’t wait to see those. I’ve been on a true-crime made-for-TV jag lately, and this film just whetted my appetite for an over the top drama detailing all the messy details of the Bling Ring’s lives. Which is kind of a problem, because I wanted this film to satisfy that need. Unfortunately, The Bling Ring kind of disappoints on many levels. It’s not a bad movie—I was mildly entertained through the whole thing—but I was left wanting much, much more. Only two characters are dealt with in detail, Marc and Nicki, and the most interesting character, Rebecca, was left pretty much as a cipher. The film doesn’t really try to deal with why the characters are so morally vacant; Coppola seems to spread the blame on both society and parents equally, but there’s nothing new there. They just rob places, go to parties, rationalize their behavior, repeat. There’s no there there, if you get what I’m laying down.
I’ve also come to expect a certain stylistic flair from Coppola that just wasn’t here for me. Her slower pacing can either serve the story well (Lost in Translation) or drive me batty (Marie Antoinette), but here it just kind of serves to drag things along. I found myself wishing for the Danny Boyle version of this movie: a bit empty but visually ripe. (I’m not saying all of his movies are empty. I’m just saying he does flash well, regardless of the content.) There were a couple of moments of inspired beauty, but for the most part this film fell flat for me. In a perfect world, I’m going to get substance and style from the same movie, but I’ll take just one and often like it just fine. This movie had moments of both, but not enough of either to immerse me in its world.
But, like I said, it’s not a bad movie, and is worth seeing for the performances alone. All the actors are good, but I would like to single out Leslie Mann as a The Secret-teaching home-schooling parent. She’s hilarious as a clueless but well-meaning mother. Coppola is an interesting director, who should have hit this one out of the park; this material was made for this director. Unfortunately, The Bling Ring is just okay instead of the really great film I know she can make.
Final Grade: B[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4LzhgExvrc&w=560&h=315]