Based on a true-crime article in Vanity Fair magazine entitled ‘The Suspects Wore Louboutins’, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring focuses on a group of spoiled L.A. teenagers who used the internet to track the whereabouts of various celebrities (including Paris Hilton, Megan Fox, and Orlando Bloom), then burgled their houses.
Intercutting the unfolding series of robberies with after-the-fact testimony from the culprits, Coppola creates an initially intriguing meta-structure – essentially a film about the making of the article upon which the film is based – which soon palls thanks to her dully repetitive approach and near-complete disinterest in the characters. The chief problem is not that there are no sympathetic characters to root for (a banal complaint at the best of times); it’s rather there’s hardly any characterisation at all, making it extremely difficult to care what happens. Only sadsackish, recently de-closeted Marc (Israel Broussard), the gang’s lone male, is afforded any sort of depth. Emma Watson’s glassy, deceptive Nicky is one-note, and the ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) is rendered a blank-eyed sociopath. Who knows: if Coppola had dedicated herself to looking – even just a little – for the humanity in her young characters, she might have found some, and consequently a measure of emotional resonance rather than glib distance. Perhaps that’s the point; that aspiration toward an overmedicated, fame-hungry, shallow lifestyle is entirely depthless. But this concept is hardly revelatory in the TMZ/Perez Hilton era when anyone with access to a television can gaze agape at the inanity of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Exactly what point Coppola is trying to make is unclear. She adopts no discernible moral or intellectual position, there’s not a flicker of suspense, and the closest the film comes to satire is in its mean-spirited, condescending portrayal of Nicky’s brittle, New Age-y mother (Leslie Mann). Brief appearances from slebs like Hilton lend the film an air of authentic verisimilitude, but further cloud its aims; are they in on the joke? Is this all just one cosy celeb-a-thon? The director seals her own fate by opting to score the closing credits in distinctly on-the-nose fashion with Frank Ocean’s ‘Super Rich Kids’ (“Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends/fake friends”); a song which says more about The Bling Ring’s self-obsessed, ennui-stricken milieu – and with more rueful warmth and felicity – in 5 minutes than Coppola can muster in 90.
All that said, it’s no easy task to make a film so comprehensively banal, slick and devoid of character. It takes surgical effort, and it’s perhaps for this reason that The Bling Ring lingers in the mind after the final credits roll. As can be gleaned from her previous films (most pertinently Somewhere) Coppola is nothing if not a stylist-at-remove, and, working with the talented – and tragically late – cinematographer Harris Savides, gives us a series of atmospherically crystalline images of glowing, absurdly appointed celeb pads in the hills, and reams of tacky accoutrements whose embellished gloss at least gives us some insight into the warped motivations of the characters. Ultimately though, what the director has painstakingly crafted is a lobotomy in film form that cowers timidly behind impenetrable levels of might-be irony. Perhaps on reflection The Bling Ring is a fitting monument to the spiritually bereft, wannabe culture it depicts.
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