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Review: The Bling Ring (2013)

The Bling Ring (2013)

Directed by: Sofia Coppola

Premise: Based on a true story. A group of fame-obsessed teenagers break into the homes of celebrities and steal their belongings.

What Works: As Sofia Coppola has emerged as a filmmaker, one of the recurrent themes in her work is the fickle and superficial qualities of pop culture. Movies like Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, and Somewhere dealt with characters bearing with excess, privilege, and celebrity, although to varying degrees of success. The Bling Ring continues that motif but in this film Coppola has presented her theme much more adeptly than in any of her recent projects and this film is nearly (if not quite) at the level of excellence first glimpsed in her feature debut, The Virgin Suicides. The Bling Ring focuses on a group of young characters; no single person emerges as the lead although several take prominence. Katie Chang stars as the teen who instigates the robberies and is something of a ringleader. What is most interesting about Chang’s character is the complex relationships she has with others. This is someone who sees other people as a means to an end and her relationship with Israel Broussard’s character emphasizes this, as she uses and ultimately betrays him. Broussard plays the only male of the group and he is the one person to display any conflict of conscience. He is also The Bling Ring’s barometer of corruption as he gradually adopts the obsession with celebrity culture and designer labels. Emma Watson plays a spoiled princess who is completely inured to consumer culture and Watson brings a conviction to her character’s sense of privilege that not only sells the picture but is also frequently hilarious. That is one of the more impressive aspects of The Bling Ring; these are truly awful characters, even more awful than the cast of Sex and the City, and yet the movie is very watchable because it is so humorous but also very humane. Coppola and her filmmaking crew are clearly having fun at their characters’ expense but at the same time they recognize the social context that produces these teenagers. This comes out very effectively in Leslie Mann’s supporting role as the mother to Emma Watson’s character. In many stories of troubled youth the parents are cold, neglectful, or absent altogether. Mann’s character is a mother who is earnestly trying to raise her daughters but failing miserably, in part because she has embraced the same kind of superficial obsessions as her daughters. The emphasis on the social and family relationships of these teens defies typical filmmaking conventions and makes this movie not only a study of these spoiled brats but also the culture that produced them.

What Doesn’t: The Bling Ring is a movie about the superficiality of everyday life and there is an inherent problem with movies about existential emptiness; if the filmmakers’ point is that everything is meaningless then quite frequently the movies themselves end up similarly vacant. This is a challenge faced by movies such as Fight Club and American Psycho and those films overcame it by connecting that emptiness to other issues like economics and gender roles. The Bling Ring is less ambitious than those examples and its presentation is much more straightforward. This may leave some viewers wondering what the point is or if there is a point at all. A more practical challenge for The Bling Ring, one that impacts both its theme and its value as entertainment, is that the characters are often incredibly stupid. This is not the kind of picture in which the characters inspire our sympathy or empathy. Fortunately, the filmmakers don’t want us to do that but rather examine this series of events and the vacant personalities involved. That is different from what the typical Hollywood movie demands of its audience and so some viewers may be confused about what they’ve seen.

DVD extras: Featurettes, trailer.

Bottom Line: The Bling Ring is smart and well-made but it also manages to conduct an existential examination of consumer culture while having a laugh. That’s a unique accomplishment and this film does it well enough to make The Bling Ring one of Sofia Coppola’s best films.

Episode: #467 (November 24, 2013)