The Bling Ring
Posted June 21, 2013 by Daniel Hodgson in
The Bling Ring is about the corrupting influence of American celebrity culture on today’s teenagers, who don’t understand the difference between fame and infamy. There is more interest here in what’s being said than what’s going on, though. As a story, The Bling Ring is a drag.
The Bling Ring is a fictionalized account of a series of real-world robberies that took between 2008 and 2009 in Los Angeles, committed by a small group of teenagers: Rebecca (Katie Chang), Marc (Israel Broussard), Nicki (Emma Watson), Chloe (Claire Julien), and Sam (Taissa Farmiga). The teens surf the web to find out when celebrities are out-of-town on a movie shoot, and then break into their homes while they’re away, and rob them of clothes, cash, and hard drugs.
Let’s look at this as a heist film. It’s a fair take, given that the movie markets itself that way, and much of the running time is devoted to the teens’ exploits. The infiltration of one of the celebrities’ houses is as easy as opening an unlocked door. Paris Hilton’s house is a bit more difficult: the door is locked, but Paris leaves the key underneath the door mat. There are no guards or guard dogs to be found anywhere. There are no alarms. And there isn’t even a teaspoon of tension for the first repetitive hour of the film, as the police are oblivious to their crimes and their identities. There’s no sense of escalating stakes or impending danger until it’s almost over. The real life events, and the persons responsible for them themselves, might make for an interesting article in Vanity Fair (the source material for the screenplay), but just don’t lend themselves to good cinema.
Empathy for these teens requires a fixation on haute couture and celebrity-worship, seemingly one-and-the-same, a fixation I do not share. It’s hard to feel bad for well-off teens facing punishment for robbing even wealthier celebrities, so there’s little sympathy (if any) for either the victims or the victimizers—it’s Paris Hilton, she’ll be OK minus a handbag or two. At best, the teens invite apathy, and at worst, antipathy for their shallow materialism and pursuit of fame at any price. The teens want to be the celebrities, and emulate the behaviors that get their idols the most attention: the drunk driving, theft, and drug use. And by pic’s end, they do not learn a damn thing. They embrace the media’s attention, and eschew responsibility for their actions, much as the celebrities themselves often do.
The film’s style makes even a break-in an absolute chore to watch. Consider the characters’ ages, their exploits, and the modern soundtrack. Taken together, The Bling Ring asks for music-video style montages, with fast, rhythmic cutting, but instead, writer/director Sofia Coppola frequently sits on long takes in uninvolving wide shots. Coverage is skimpy, sparse; it’s lethargic when it should have youthful energy.
Ten years after Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation—the only film I have ever walked out on—there are no signs of her evolution as a storyteller or a filmmaker. At one point in this film, one of the teen burglars jumps in bed with someone whom I can only guess is her boyfriend, a character we’ve barely seen—if at all—until this point in the film. He then vanishes from the narrative without a trace. The writer/director may know who her characters are, but there’s a failure here to communicate their significance to the audience. The film is just as fixated on high-fashion and status symbols as its characters are, giving only a cursory examination of the characters themselves, and in doing so, is just as superficial as they are.