Sunday, June 30, 2013

Movie Review: "The Bling Ring"

One of Sofia Coppola's strengths as a filmmaker is her ability to take what we think we know—lonely actors, relationships, royalty, and the cult of celebrity—and skew our perspectives. That talent is on fine display in The Bling Ring, an enjoyable if slight movie based on the true story of a group of California high school students who, in 2008, broke into the houses of their favorite celebrities (Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge) and stole clothing, jewelry, and money.

Insecure Marc (Israel Broussard) is a new student in a transitional high school. His low self-esteem (he doesn't think he's as attractive or worthy as his peers) makes him determined and somewhat desperate to fit in. He meets Rebecca (Katie Chang), who quickly takes him under her wing and introduces him to her circle of friends—Nicki (Emma Watson, the anti-Hermione), her surrogate sister, Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and gravelly-voiced Chloe (Claire Julien), all of whom are more interested in clubbing, taking drugs, and shopping than academics, which suits Marc just fine.

Marc and Rebecca bond over their mutual love of celebrities, fashion, and gossip, although Rebecca's brazen thievery surprises and unnerves him. But he considers Rebecca his best friend, and since he finally feels as if he belongs, he keeps most of his concerns to himself. And then Rebecca ups the ante from breaking into random empty houses to breaching celebrities' inner sanctums. (You won't believe how easy this activity becomes, and you can't help but wonder whether this was truly the case back in 2008.)

The pair, with their friends tagging along from time to time, identify celebrities who are out of town (God bless the internet) and break into their houses, stealing designer clothes, jewelry, money, and drugs, sharing and selling the spoils (and celebrating their finds in clubs and via social media). They don't really try and hide what they're doing, and no one really shows remorse—the general sentiment is that these celebrities have far more than they need, so why shouldn't they take some?

As you might imagine, the gig eventually comes to an end, to Marc's simultaneous relief and sadness. And as the group tries to spin what they've done (some more successfully than others), you find yourself wondering how disconnected these kids are from the adults in their lives, and how we as a society have built celebrities—particularly those more famous for being famous than for actually doing anything—into somewhat of a revered class yet one deserving of some humility and comeuppance, particularly from those less fortunate.

What makes The Bling Ring so enjoyable is both the audacity of the schemes the group pulls off as well as the strength and naturalness of the actors' performances. (All but Watson have done few if any movies prior to this.) Chang is marvelous as the icy ringleader; you understand why Marc wants to be her friend and stay in her good graces. Broussard is refreshingly vulnerable and conflicted in his role as the film's imperfect consciousness, and Watson has both the self-centered California attitude—and the dialogue—down pat.

I enjoyed this movie a great deal, but in the end, Coppola's decision to keep the audience at arm's length from the characters undercuts the film's power, so it didn't quite wow me. It's still definitely worth seeing, perhaps when it comes to whatever streaming or DVD rental service you use, if for no other reason than to marvel at what this group of kids pulled off.

1 comment:

  1. I was really very surprised that these celebrities were not more careful about their home security even if they had already been victimized. Paris and Rachel Bilson homes were entered repeatedly!