Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Bling Ring

THE BLING RING      C+                  
USA  (90 mi)  2013  d:  Sofia Coppola 

Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends.             
—Frank Ocean, “Super Rich Kids” Frank Ocean - Super Rich Kids on Vimeo YouTube (5:05)

Once again, Sofia Coppola zeroes in on the vacuous and empty-headed lives of spoiled and pampered, overly rich white kids from Hollywood whose parents are nearly absent from their lives, so they are literally consumed by the very public lives of the fabulously wealthy, impressed by their jewelry, fashion taste, magazine spreads, celebrity television and movie appearances, and how they love to party in the upscale club scene, constantly seeing the faces of other young stars in all the tabloids and magazines, continually wondering why it can’t be them?  Adapted by the director from real life occurrences that were reported in an article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,”  by Nancy Jo Sales from Vanity Fair, March 2010 about a group of Hollywood teens who burglarized the homes of their idols, stealing their clothes and jewellery, not to mention large wads of cash, while spending their money at the same clubs where their favorite stars hung out.  Surprised that the homes were so easy to break into, as usually sliding glass doors were left open, or keys left under the doormat, it was easy to Google their addresses and find out what celebrities were out of town for a special event, leaving their homes vacant.  While stealing over $3 million worth of jewelry, high end clothes, Rolex watches, fashionable shoes, perfume, makeup, artworks, and stashes of various social drugs and cash from the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, Rachel Bilson, and Audrina Patridge, their favorite house turned out to be Paris Hilton, returning repeatedly, stealing $2 million dollars alone from the stuff taken from her home.  Paris Hilton wasn’t even aware anything was missing until months later, as the group’s undoing came by foolishly posting photos of themselves on Facebook wearing these newly acquired items, which served as easy evidence of stolen merchandise for the police once they caught on. 

While Coppola has an appealing experimental style that works best in a non-narrative, stream-of-conscious style, the very lack of definition suits her highly impressionist form, as her use of music to help fill empty spaces is usually nothing less than superb.  Using the talent of ace cinematographer Harris Savides in his final film (dedicated to his memory), they combine to show what architectural beauty can be expressed by shooting a robbery in progress through a glass house, where the perpetrators are seen as little more than a movement of shadows, but visually it’s a captivating moment.  Coppola is hampered here by the repetitive storyline, reflecting the bored lives of the typically screwed up teenagers who continually return to the same activity like a drug, often seen bragging about their exploits afterwards in upscale clubs, obviously trying to impress others, where they are seen as little more than opportunists in waiting.  Inflating one’s view of oneself is a constant in this film, reflecting the adoring approval received by their parents who wouldn’t think of reprimanding them, allowing them to do whatever they want, as these kids are continually taking photos of themselves with their phones and posting them on their Facebook pages.  This dysfunctional group includes Katie Chang as Rebecca, something of the ringleader, and her adoring follower Marc, Israel Broussard, a not so great looking guy that loves fashion design, so fits right into this culture.  Their best friends include sisters Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga with a leopard-skin infatuation), both home-schooled by their clueless mother on how to look their best and think positively, given Adderall every morning for God knows how long, while they’re best friends with the more stoic Chloe (Claire Julien).  All they ever talk about is what people are wearing, as that’s all that seems to matter to them.  This film pales in comparison to Not Fade Away (2012), for instance, a much better written David Chase film featuring teenagers from the 60’s that just knew they would eventually be discovered as rock stars, as they were only waiting for someone to discover them.  Similarly, this group already thinks of themselves as stars simply because they so completely identify with the Hollywood culture of attractiveness and glamour, getting their faces plastered over all the tabloids, and then using that to build a career.  It’s interesting that the choices of who to rob comes from the faces they routinely see in the tabloids and celebrity news TV programs.  

Celebrity worship is nothing new, but this may be the first time kids feel so entitled to be included among the celebrities simply because they can copy their fashion sense and be seen in the same public places.  It’s hard to fathom, but this group has delusions of grandeur, where they feel as if it’s their right to steal clothes from the stars, as emulating their lifestyle is how they’ll be discovered.  What’s missing is any likeable person among the bunch, as all are so hung up on themselves that nobody else matters.  In truth, these are thoroughly detestable people that haven’t a clue what matters in life, as all they’ve learned is to think exclusively about themselves. They have such a high opinion of themselves that their egos take the place of sex, which is also missing in these young kid’s lives.  The idea of communicating with others doesn’t even occur to them, as all they want to do is see themselves in the mirror.  This human contempt grows tiresome after awhile, as there’s little reason why anyone should care about any of the subjects in this film, a similar reaction to Coppola’s earlier candy-colored walk through history with a young empty-headed MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006).  The character of Nicki is actually based upon Alexis Neiers, her younger sister Gabby, and an adopted sister Tess Taylor, all pursuing modeling careers managed by their mother, Andrea Arlington, a former Playboy playmate who claims she modeled lingerie with Cindy Crawford in the 80’s.  They were all subjects of a short-lived Reality TV show Pretty Wild, which aired for two months on the E! Network in the spring of 2010.  Unfortunately, Alexis was arrested by the first episode, becoming a convicted felon, where her melodramatic Diva Queen personality was so overly self-indulgent that its claim to fame may be that it challenges for the worst show to ever air on TV (Pretty Wild Might Be the Worst Television Show Ever Made - Gawker).  Why all of this should appeal to the director, or a viewing audience, is an open question, as whatever satiric slant may have been intended runs thin, where it plays out more as an absurdist caricature of people that just don’t care, where it appears that celebrity culture is already too over-exposed and doesn’t need any more public screen time, as their lives are simply too pathetically empty to be taken seriously.  The question is:  does this film raise a larger issue?  If this is supposed to represent a cultural phenomenon about narcissistic kids growing up today who are simply too infatuated with themselves, showing no interest in the lives of others, there is too much evidence to suggest otherwise, as students and the youth vote played a large part in electing and re-electing the first black President Barack Obama, while children of the elite comprise much of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  Coppola has always sympathized with kids, much like herself, raised in a bubble who are simply too bored to care, emblematic of their celebrity heroes that show the same vacuous superficiality, but this time she’s hit a wall, never unlocking any revelatory secrets or exposing a social critique that actually matters.


  1. "Once again, Sofia Coppola zeroes in on the vacuous and empty-headed lives of spoiled and pampered, overly rich white kids from Hollywood whose parents are nearly absent from their lives..." I'm sorry, when was the last time?

  2. How about her previous film Somewhere (2010), but stylistically, other than geographic location, the same could be said for every film she's ever made.

  3. Agreed, but what I meant was that your quoted description only fits The Bling Ring: it's her first film about rich white kids from Hollywood. For example the actor protagonist of Somewhere was about 35.

    The importance in this is in denying that SC tells the same story over and over again, as your over-simplification implied. She does, however, deal with the same themes and zeitgeist atmospheres. Other than that, I found your points valid and well formed.

    It bothers me, why for so many people SC is a problematic film maker. I've heard so often her being described as "talented...but..." as if there was something suspicious about her work, like you were supposed to only admire certain aspects of her films but not really like them. In this respect, the reactions towards her films remind me of those addressed towards Lars von Trier. But unlike von Trier's, SC's films are made with admirable simplicity and economy, so I don't understand what the problem really is. To me Somewhere was, indeed, an awe-inspiring film, perfectly delivering every nuance of the world it tried to convey. Not too many have agreed.

  4. "For example the actor protagonist of Somewhere was about 35."

    That's Sofia Coppola's portrait of her own childhood, and without resorting to specific details, it's an impressionistic mosaic of the distance she felt between her own father, who was forever off on the road "somewhere," and rarely at home, where she never really felt like she knew him.

    The film Somewhere is very positively reviewed on this site, February 6, 2011, just enter the title in the upper left hand search space and it will find it for you. But I didn't care nearly as much for The Bling Ring, as the telling of a real life story didn't allow her to improvise the material in a more experimental, non-narrative fashion, which stylistically is what she truly excels at, in my view.

    I certainly don't think she's a problematic filmmaker, but it is true, Anton, that the director has created her own dilemma by making all her films about spoiled and extravagantly rich white youth, where by now we've seen her tell this story much better in earlier films.

    The negativity directed toward Sofia Coppola is about the limitations of her material, nothing like the self-indulgent Lars von Trier, who tends to be a contemptibly offensive human being with narcissistic tendencies, thus he has been banned from attending the Cannes Film Festival where he made an ass of himself there the last time. Sofia Coppola, on the contrary, is the picture of grace, shyness, and a world of interior imagination.