Before even starting this review, it needs to be pointed out that those who are expected a high-action, high-intensity caper flick, where a group of teens daringly rob the rich and famous, they are looking in the wrong place.
The Bling Ring is a Sophia Coppola film, meaning that it is an art film, meaning that it is making a statement before anything else, including a high action plot.
I am a massive fan of Coppola’s, and have seen all of her films multiple times. I love her sedate style, as she goes for the sublime, and she always attempts to catch the human condition at its most basic and pure. Lost in Translation is my absolute favorite film of all time, and perhaps this love of her work will skew my review of The Bling Ring, but so be it. I’ll try and give multiple perspectives on the movie.
The true story is based on a group of fame-obsessed teenagers, who begin to break into and steal from celebrities in Los Angeles. They broke into the houses of well known celebs, such as Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton (on multiple occasions). The teens, known as “The Bling Ring,” were in love with the opulent lifestyle of the stars, and wanted their piece of it. They stole clothing, purses, jewelry, and cash. Nothing that would go noticed by the celebs, since they had so much of everything.
The group were driven by different things. Some thought that they weren’t good looking enough to fit in, or didn’t have the right style to fit in, or were simply greedy. They were the embodiment of our materialistic culture, and fell prey to the onslaught of magazines and ads that featured the importance of being rich. They were taken in by the celebrity culture, and in their own way, became celebrities themselves.
Our group of thieves were not particularly bright. They were definite amateurs, even though they were clever enough to know when stars were out of town, and manged to get in to their houses without breaking anything. For example, Paris Hilton left a key under her doormat, which is not entirely surprising, given that it is Paris Hilton. They never wore gloves, therefore littering the houses with their fingerprints. They never wore masks, allowing them to be caught on security footage on more than one occasion. And perhaps most damning was their insistence on taking a ton of photos, in clubs, holding wads of cash, and even in the houses themselves, and posting them to Facebook. Not great for when they inevitably got caught.
The purpose of this film, done in typical Sophia Coppola fashion, is to show why they needed to do this. As per most of her movies, she uses the visual more than the dialogue to tell her story. We get to see the amazingly rich places that these celebrities live in (including Hilton’s actual house), and the sheer craziness of their possessions. The kids looked up to the celebs as their fashion icons, and they wanted to be like them, and dress like them, without having the means to do so legally. Coppola makes a strong statement on our desire to live outside of our means, to be something that we are not, based on what we see in magazines, and on TV. We are told by celebs that their lives are better because of the things that they own, making us want to own those same types of things. It is a backwards way of thinking, but fame sells. And for the members of The Bling Ring, it had them sold to the point of committing crimes.
Coppola uses many quiet shots, often just showing the characters rummaging through a house, looking for celebrity treasures. In a Coppola movie, you don’t always need a ton of rambling dialogue to let us know what it happening. Sometimes, we can simply sit back and watch. And she provides us with this voyeuristic viewpoint on several occasions, enhancing her point that we love to watch celebrity.
The actors in the ensemble cast are generally pretty strong. They range from being vapid and spoiled to generally damaged and troubled. The cast is led by Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, and Emma Watson (who completely nails her role as the most outspoken of the crime group, going full Valley Girl at points). None of the characters are given tons of depth, as would a character in a celebrity magazine. But they all have their issues. From simple greed, to genuine drug addictions, and desire to fit in and be a part of the crowd. With the minimalist dialogue in the script, the actors are still able to let us know who they are, and why they decided to do the things that they did, without having to talk about it endlessly. We could see the coldness in Chang’s eyes, the wildness and joy of getting away with something. We could see the deer-in-the-headlights look of Broussard, often just along for the fun, often the driving force behind the crimes.
As with another Coppola film, Marie Antoinette, The Bling Ring is driven by its soundtrack. Part indie rock (as with all her films), and part hip hop lauding the celebrity lifestyle, the music helps to tell the story of these teens. Combined with the music, we see a lot, as Coppola allows us to understand the excess of Hollywood. Wandering through Paris Hilton’s house, we are shocked at her narcissism, and in awe at the volume of material goods she has. There is a room for purses. There is an entire wall of sunglasses. These are types of lives that we will never be able to experience, and Coppola is able to take us into that world, to allow us to be an up-close spectator for once, instead of simple being on the outside looking in. And that is what these kids were able to do. They went beyond looking at the magazines, and got up close and personal with the lives of the people they adored. There was something that they wanted, and they went out and took it.
I’ve read a few reviews about The Bling Ring, and they are as I expected. A lot of people complaining that the film is slow (duh), or that it is pretentious (duh again). Several review stated that Coppola was glorifying theft, making it look glamorous, but I disagree. The criminals ended up taking over $3 million worth of goods, but it never did anything for them. They would sell some items to make more money, to fuel their partying lifestyle and pseudo-celebrity status, but the things they kept had to be stored away in trunks, or hidden. They never really got anything out of it. Granted, they had some grand adventures in the houses of the celebs, but in the end, there is very little that is glamorous about it. Their lives were ruined by the choices that they made, even though at least one of them has been able to somewhat cash in on her acquired fame from the thefts.
For those who are not fans of Sophia Coppola, or will have The Bling Ring be their first experience with her work, it is a different kind of film. It is slow, it is not dialogue driven. It is driven by her overarching theme, and everything else plays a secondary role to this. The movie is about the downfalls of celebrity obsession, and the terrible lengths that some people will go to emulate people that probably shouldn’t be emulated in the first place. Do not expect some planned capers with high-tech equipment like in Ocean’s 11. It is not that kind of film. It is based on fact, and the fact was that breaking into these houses was far more simple and ordinary than that.
Coppola succeeds in this film in bringing out the feelings of sadness and desperation that a teen feels with their desire to belong, and to fit it. And she is also very successful at displaying what happens to someone when they get a little taste of something. Marc, the main male in the group, goes from being quiet and shy to an over-the-top party person, doing cocaine, spending massive amounts of money, and opening up his defenses to something that he knows is wrong. He breaks down his own walls, because once he has had a taste of the good life, he knows that there is no way he will be able to go back to being a normal kid again.
After my first viewing of The Bling Ring, I loved it. My instant reaction was to put it as my second favorite Coppola film, behind only Lost in Translation. Perhaps this will change, and The Virgin Suicides will retake its place in second, but I feel that The Bling Ring is superior to Marie Antoinette, in that it provides us with an even more updated story of similar themes: excess and the damage it does.
If you are already a fan of Coppola’s work, then this film is a must-see. It is fresh, and provides us with a little more substance than her previous effort, Somewhere.
While the merits of her films are constantly debated, I feel that she is a visionary filmmaker who understands what makes people tick. I believe that with her unique perspective of being Hollywood royalty, she can provide her viewers with a little bit of insight into the worlds that she describes in her films. There is always something personal in her work, which allows us to get to know her a little bit better every time around.
Love her or hate her, I think Coppola has created a definite winner in the entertaining and though-provoking The Bling Ring. See for yourself, and you decide.