Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review: "The Bling Ring"

Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring is a frightening film. It is shocking to see how a group of California teenagers can be so celebrity-obsessed that they could be so bold as to repeatedly break into celebrities' homes and rob them. The film's trailer was one of the most exciting of the spring, featuring thumping techno music set against shots of fame-crazy teenagers stealing clothes and accessories. Unfortunately, The Bling Ring had a somewhat lukewarm reception at its Cannes premiere in May. Sofia Coppola adapted her screenplay from a Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales. The May 2010 article, The Suspects Wore Louboutins, details how members of the Bling Ring allegedly stole more than $3 million in jewelry and high-end goods between October 2008 and July 2009. The list of victims includes Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom. Hilton and Dunst appear as themselves in the film. Interestingly, two of Coppola's previous films have starred Dunst, including her feature debut, The Virgin Suicides (1999). Sofia Coppola has written the screenplays for all five films she has directed. The Hollywood Reporter lamented that The Bling Ring was light on social commentary in its Cannes review, yet I found the story to be profoundly jarring. Our society is celebrity-obsessed. We live in a society with magazines devoted to celebrity watching. Our televisions are flooded with reality shows centred on celebrities' lives. And there have long been men and women arrested for stalking celebrities. The Bling Ring should be seen as social commentary. Sofia Coppola is asking us to consider if celebrity obsession can become pathological. 

Marc Hall (Israel Broussard) met Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang) at Indian Hills High School, an alternative school. Marc was there because his high number of absences threatened his chances of graduation. Rebecca had a drug problem. The two quickly became friends, though it seems she preyed on the lonely new kid. Rebecca introduced Marc to her circle of friends, which included Nicki Moore (Emma Watson), Chloe Tayner (Claire Julien) and Sam Moore (Taissa Farmiga). Nicki and Sam were home-schooled by Nicki's mother, a former Playmate, using the teachings of The Secret. Rebecca was the ringleader of the group. She encouraged Marc to use the Internet to track celebrities' whereabouts and to find their addresses. They would sneak into their homes and steal clothes, accessories, money and drugs. 

There are a few films about teenagers that have left a poor taste in my mouth. The type of film you can discuss for hours and months after viewing and still have no clearer picture in your head about why characters make certain choices. The first was Marcos Siega's 2005 very black comedy Pretty Persuasion, which starred Evan Rachel Wood as a girl who makes a false accusation against her teacher. Then there was Ben C. Lucas' 2010 Australian film Wasted on the Young which told the fictional story of how social media can wreak havoc on one's life. The Bling Ring is the only one to be based on true events.  I am not sure if I was more shocked to see these actions on film or to read about how Nicki Moore (whose real name is Alexis Neiers) starred in her own E! reality series in 2010 called Pretty Wild, which focused on their party lifestyle. And then there is Sam Moore (Tess Taylor) who co-starred on the show and then became Playboy's Cyber Girl of the Year in 2010. Sofia Coppola is a gifted filmmaker. She has a distinct way of expressing her vision on screen. Each film is unique, but it is clearly her style. She chose to cast unknown actors as members of the Bling Ring, the lone exception being Emma Watson. There is a real sense of innocence on screen that she was able to capture. The Bling Ring is a chaotic film, much like the characters on screen. Coppola does only scratch the surface with her vision of the story. She chooses to focus on the events rather than the consequences. She has left it up to her audience to make a judgment. 

My rating: 3 stars out of 4. 

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