Director: Sofia Coppola
Writers: Sofia Coppola, Nancy Jo Sales
Cast: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson
” The lifestyle that everybody kinda wants.”
Rich people are normal folk with feelings just like you, but not really as they are actually better than you. That sentiment applies to, and more or less sums up, most of Sofia Coppola’s films like the superb “Lost in translation” (2003), the misjudged “Marie Antoinette” (2006) and the abysmal “Somewhere” (2010).
“The Bling Ring” (2013) is no different in that regard, yet for once it doesn’t ask you to moralise about or sympathise with the ennui of the wealthy elite. In fact, in my opinion, it tacitly supports and condones the cause of a group of disillusioned alienated Hollywood teenagers. These teenagers – Emma Watson, Katie Chang, Israel Broussard – are your typical west coast brats, spoiled beyond belief; driving expensive cars, visiting lavish clubs and bars, wearing all the best designer gear.
It’s that closeted privileged lifestyle, coupled with youthful enthusiasm and care free risk-taking that sets our “heroes” on their journey to ransack and pillage the houses of celebrities whilst they are away. A quick, simple google search shows them that, for example, Paris Hilton is attending a party out of town and what her home address is. So our group chance their arm and pay her house a visit.
Low and behold, there’s nobody home when our group come a knocking. At every home there’s always (conveniently!) an open door, an ajar window or a key “hidden” under a doormat. The kids never actually break into anyone homes. Instead they waltz on in and help themselves to jewellery, cash and intimate private celebrity photos. Mostly though, it’s the wardrobes that demand the most attention. There’s a lot of handbag theft and fashion pilfering from the (majority female) group. All with gay abandon.
What can possibly go wrong? It’s not a major spoiler to say that they do eventually get caught by the fuzz – It is a true story. But that’s pretty much the whole film summed up. It’s one celebrity house after another, robbery after robbery. Interestingly though Coppola doesn’t (on the face of it) try to assign blame or offer up an excuse for the teenagers actions. It all just kind of happens fairly organically.
This is, at its heart, a kid’s film. Not in a “Toy Story” sense, more that instead of the usual character arcs and lessons learned; these kids are simply that – Kids. They fuck up, they experiment, and they enjoy the lifestyle with no second thought given to the consequences. All they want is the latest designer gear and money for everything. You know, just like teenage children, albeit spoiled ones. Superbly, when the police show up with a warrant at one of the characters home he simply bursts into tears and hugs his mum helplessly. In fact the group eventually set amongst themselves, all denying any major involvement. “We wouldn’t do this”, “It was my upbringing” “They dragged me along”.
That’s why I enjoyed this film; it felt realistic, despite its distant aloof celebrity world. I completely believed how the characters acted. I even started to feel that the celebrities’ homes were fair game; why not just walk in and help yourself? They are too rich to care anyway, and celebrities are so ubiquitous and inescapably “in your face” that it already feels like we own them in a perverse kind of way already. First we giveth then we taketh away.
Despite buying the characters, I didn’t believe Emma Watson’s performance. She “phones it in” in parts, putting on a Californian beach girl accent to spout such insights as “Oh you’re butt looks great in that”. Her faux act of contrition at the end during her Vanity Fair interview is a great scene as she astutely grasps the situation and promotes herself, but otherwise Watson swans about giving knowing nods and winks to the absurdity of modern celebrity despite her own celebrity lifestyle (which she presumably enjoys immensely). She hardly pushes the boat out far here.
Incidentally the idea for The Bling Rings stems from a 2010 Vanity Fair article called “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” which is worth a read, if only as it causes you to delve further into the real “Bling Ring”, who look distinctly less, erm, “Hollywood”. In fact the characters are distinctly whiter on the screen than in real life. Now how much you want to read into that is up to you, but I would offer up that the producers felt that the audience would have significantly less sympathy for a chronic burglar if they were watching a Latino Immigrant, rather than a beautiful, buxom blonde white girl, so changes were made. Cynical, moi?
Real life casting choices aside, there’s little else in the way of sub plot in the Bling ring. There’s a lovelorn teenage crush vibe between with two characters, a suggestion that one member of the group is short changing the rest with a local club owner (Bafflingly played by Gavin Rossdale!) and a pseudo-religious, celebrity themed, new age belief system but otherwise the film ticks along nicely from break in and robbery to nightclub and hedonism.
Coppola, as expected, flashes her stuff with snazzy visual flourishes and a tremendously believable and listenable soundtrack. The LA lifestyle looks magnificent and the whole package is professionally and confidently put together.
A couple of gripes though. The celebrity cameos; Obviously Paris Hilton has to figure, but the scenes in her house irked me (She apparently allowed the film permission to shoot inside her actual house). There’s a kind of cognitive dissonance at play – It’s both critical and non-judgemental at the same time – Look at how stupid she is with her celebrity bullshit (Pictures of herself on her own cushions etc.) but oh look at how she’s so successful and rich with all her wonderful shiny things. There’s also a brief cameo for Kirsten Dunst which serves no purpose other than Coppola giving one of her mates some screen time.
“The Bling Ring” is a good film, told fluidly and efficiently, with flair and intrigue. If there is a broad message to take away it is (as always with Coppola) that “Rich celebrities have feelings too, but don’t let that stop you idolising them!” which is of course nonsense. I wish Coppola had made it more explicit that some celebrities are “fair game” rather than fence sitting, neither condoning nor supporting the rapscallion teenagers.
I sense that Coppola, like the rest of us, actually quite likes some celebrities (Dunst) but not others (Hilton). It’s that kind of mixed messaging that permeates the film and perhaps helps to explain the delusions of grandeur that are fed daily to teenagers the world over. Most people obviously won’t invade a celebrity’s private life and rob their possessions, but if they do there will be yet another sexy passively judgemental film to be made.