Welcome to The Bling Ring Generation

Originally published over at On The Screen Reviews

Before Hollywood discovered the benefit of locking their doors when leaving town, a group of gutsy, celebrity-obsessed high schoolers ransacked the homes of Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, and Lindsey Lohan…to name a few. And they posted their  designer booty on Facebook feeling the temporary fulfillment of ultimate materialism–until they got caught.

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Sofia Coppola’s 2013 pop culture blitz uncovers the fame-obsessed culture our society has unraveled into. Like her films in recent past, Somewhere and Lost in Translation both tap into the emptiness of celebrity, but both offer a degree of sympathy toward characters that have emotions we can relate to. Coppola’s precise story-telling of The Bling Ring is more rigid with unlikable characters who are impossible to empathize with, which makes you wonder — why would Coppola dive headfirst into this vapid pool of stolen Louboutins and Chanel?

“I saw this culture growing and growing, so I wanted the audience to experience it for themselves, and by the end of [the movie] to think about what’s important to them and how they feel about it—not to tell them what to think. It seems like it’s from reality TV and social media—this idea that kind of anyone and everyone can be famous. It’s just such a big part of our life now. In the beginning, to shoot all of this stuff in a really seductive way and make it look fun—you want to be able to be part of it so you understand where they’re coming from. But then by the end of it, you kind of have a shift and take a step back and, you know, kind of look at it.”

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“I thought, How am I going to make a movie where the characters are so unsympathetic? Usually there’s a girl or a character that I connect with and see part of myself in, and in this one I didn’t. It was really a challenge to find a way to tell the story in a way that would engage you, ’cause if you don’t care about the characters how can you get into it? But then I met [Nick Prugo], and I thought he was really the most sympathetic one—you could understand how he could have gotten caught up in this group and why he wanted to be a part of it. I remembered being that age and, you know, you do things you wouldn’t do as an adult because you want the excitement of feeling like you’re part of something.” Sofia Coppola via RookieMag

The Bling Ring is based on the real-life accounts of  the accused burglars in the infamous Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Loubitons.” If the film can offer sympathy to any character, Coppola leans toward Marc (the character based off of Nick Prugo), the go-to bummer story of the outsider trying to fit in with his peers. The story unfolds in flashbacks beginning with Marc recounting his insecurities and how that affected his transition in his new high school. Marc (Israel Broussard) describes himself as unattractive and unnoticeable guy who needed reassurance that he was “somebody.” That reassurance comes from the soon-to-be leader of the Bling Ring Rebecca (Katie Chang), who takes Marc under her wing and immediately initiates him into a thievery clique of their own together starting with small heists;  unlocked car to steal from, followed by homes of acquaintances and finally the ballsy move toward celebrity homes. Rebecca relied on Marc to locate the celebrity homes through websites and aerial views of the home. Marc and Rebecca are joined by Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien) who are all equally as vapid, shallow and consumed in the emptiness of striving for the celebrity lifestyle.

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Initially apprehensive and visibly uncomfortable to the seemingly harmless burglaries with Rebecca, Marc is reassured that the victims will never notice anything is missing, because “they have so much.” Marc’s motives differed from the girls, who vied to be a part of the celebrity lifestyle with bags, jewelry and shoes–living the life on a five-finger discount. Marc revels in the acceptance and attention Rebecca gives him claiming he loved her like a sister and proves there are no limits to pleasing her. Basking in the limelight of excess, their ventures make the news after MTV star Audrina Patridge posts a surveillance video of the thieves breaking into her home. While the other Bling Ring members are shaken by the exposure, despite their identities being unknown, Rebecca doesn’t allow a gap between their conquests. Everything eventually comes to a crashing halt, and the rest is history.

This was one of my greatest anticipations for the summer of 2013, because I, like Coppola, am with how outrageous this story was and how unbelievable the details are. But as silly and shallow as the dialogue is in the movie, every line or details stems from facts or from police/the Vanity Fair interview prior to the sentencing. Those kids were that slick, that stupid and that desperate. I thought the script was very well written by Coppola who told the story unbiased providing more fact than fiction to support her story-telling. Indiewire compiled a list of excerpts from reviewers who seem to be missing the genius behind Coppola’s motives asking “Does Sophia Coppola have a problem with privilege or do her critics?” Review excerpts include: “As if using cinema as therapy to deal with her own guilt trip for being brought up into Hollywood opulence, writer-director Sofia Coppola once again delivers us into a world of spoiled young people grappling with their warped sense of entitlement.” This “world” doesn’t fall in the minority of California; it’s a relevant problem of our society overexposed to social media and reality television. The Bling Ringers displayed the conquests in a variety of slow-motion “selfies” that immediately were published to Facebook, the cyber universe showcasing who’s who.

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“In a recent interview with The New York Times Magazine, Coppola offered ‘When I go to a concert, everyone is filming and photographing themselves and then posting the pictures right away. It is almost as if your experiences don’t count unless you have an audience watching them.’ While hardly a novel sentiment, Coppola’s anecdotal observation nevertheless speak to the fundamental lack of presentness at the heart of her new movie. How do you live in the moment when you can’t even tell when the moment is, anymore?” via Film.com

I have a love/hate relationship with Sofia Coppola’s films. She has a very crisp eye for precision and art direction; every shot is filmed with an exact intention in mind…nothing is accidental in Sofia Coppola shots, and I love her for that. The opening sequence was one of my favorites shots showcases one of the many break-ins into Paris Hilton’s mansion filled with decadence, crystal chandeliers, designer everything and countless framed photos of the heiress. Another great shot Coppola used was a wide shot of Marc and Rebecca burglarizing Audrina Patridge’s home, but all we see is a faraway shot looking into the glass house as they quickly rummage through the glass house and scamper out.

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As for the relatively unknown casting choices, the film may have benefited with a group of unknowns giving it a greater authenticity of average kids yearning for fame. With the exception of the tour de force Emma Watson, who steals almost every scene with her vacant, self-involved persona and atrocious valley girl accent that she nailed. [If you find it obnoxious or over-the-top, that is exactly what Alexis Neiers, the girl she portrays, sounds like.] Watson committed 100% to understanding how her character ticks. She proved in Perks of Being a Wildflower that she had graduated from the Hogwarts Era, and The Bling Ring has catapulted her into a whole other category of tremendous potential. Another surprising standout was Israel Broussard, who convinced me to feel a pinch of sympathy for him in his quest to find acceptance.

Coppola is particular in the work she chooses and only has a film come out every handful of years. The celebrity-obsessed culture and fascination with fame has been a serious American issue for over a decade, and it hasn’t stopped. The group behind the infamous Bling Ring displayed how far people will go to achieve that level of materialistic satisfaction. But as matter-of-fact as Coppola was with unbiased telling their story, she left me wanting more. Something. Anything. Here’s where she could have stepped outside of the facts she knew and created an altercation between Marc and Rebecca or among the group or something to give me a greater sense of the fear and distress prior to their arrest. Coppola delivered a relevant cautionary tale that resonates now more than ever, and Coppola left me and my friends feeling very unsettled in the pit of our stomachs when the credits rolled. There was a lot to be desired that Coppola could have worked with, and I wished she had dived a little deeper into this.

The Bling Ring is being shown on Day Three of the Femme Filmmakers Festival.

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