Sophia Coppola is a filmmaker fascinated with young women and the construction of celebrity identity. Her characters are often isolated, some literally--as in Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides--some despite being surrounded by hordes of people--Marie Antoinette and Somewhere. Coppola's new film, The Bling Ring, continues these concerns.
This is a classic American story that seems too outrageously contrived and entirely far-fetched to be true, but you better believe it is. The Bling Ring is based on a Vanity Fair article, written by Nancy Jo Sales in 2009, revealing the exploits of a real-life group of teenagers who broke into a spate of celebrities' homes to raid their wardrobes of all the Chanel, YSL, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Rolex, and Cartier they could carry. It might seem inconceivable to be able to find Paris Hilton's house, know when she is out, and find her keys hidden under her doormat, but that's what really happened. All these kids had to do was a bit of Googling and TMZ prowling to get seemingly unprecedented access to their celebrity victims.
Along with multiple raids on Paris Hilton's house (who opened her doors for Coppola's film) The Bling Ringers also stole from Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr, Rachel Bilson, Lindsay Lohan, and Megan Fox, among others. It's impossible to extricate The Bling Ring crew from the celebrities they are trying to get inside of—their obsession and natural ease within the world of celebrity culture is utterly bizarre, but also speaks to their location in LA and largely privileged upbringings. A few had parents who were involved in the film industry.
Some of the film's best revelations come from the interactions and subsequent confessions of these young women and their sole male companion. The integration of Facebook and all of its social conventions brings another important layer to the flippant yet maniacal and pseudo-psychological insights and concerns of the teenagers involved. The fact that one or two of them seem to cultivate some kind of celebrity of their own (however brief or misapplied) in light of the events is a fitting conclusion that speaks to the transience of it all. Of course, celebrities like Lohan, Hilton, and Bloom, who were at the height of their powers just four or five years ago when the crimes occurred, now serve to situate the film in its particular time and place. The celebrity machine has moved on.
The film shows all of this at a distance. Coppola has repeatedly said she wanted to coolly portray the events and the teenagers responsible without judgement. The result is a film that resists indulgence, stylistic or otherwise. It is less decadent than Coppola's other work, but there are beautifully shot moments that carry all the more weight because of their scarcity. There is an underlying tension—we know that eventually the kids are gonna get caught, but Coppola works hard to make this seem like an ambivalent crescendo. Rather than chastise the bizarre society that has fed these teenagers' desires and sense of entitlement, Coppola takes on the role of a bystander. The result may leave some viewer's feeling cold, but I found myself completely transfixed.
Pros: The performances in The Bling Ring are excellent. While seemingly less complex and poignant, The Bling Ring is nevertheless of a piece with Coppola's growing body of exceptionally insightful films.
Cons: If you're looking for a fun-filled teen romp, this isn't it. The Bling Ring's distance and restraint will likely disappoint you.
Image credit: The Athena Cinema