Friday, June 21, 2013

Love: The Bling Ring


Sofia Coppola's latest meditation on wealth and fame seems like a custom fit. Restless teenagers, the lives of the wealthy, celebrity fame, alienation, manufactured identity; all the bespoke materials of the director's signature style. In the opening credits, the camera travels over collections of beautiful objects and spaces that seem primed for a fashion editorial, we take them in to the electric discord of a rollicking Sleigh Bells song, understand that they are to be desired.  These are the spoils of modern royalty, what it looks like when Marie Antoinette's boudoir comes complete with shelf after shelf of color-coded Louboutins.  In The Bling Ring, Coppola returns to the scenes of true-life crimes perpetrated by a group of well-off teenagers.  It's ideal material for her brand of luxury navel-gazing, made all the more compelling by its curious refusal to pass judgment on its club kid thieves.
The story is based on the Nancy Jo Sales piece "The Suspects Wore Louboutins" printed in Vanity Fair in March of 2010.  In the essay, Sales chronicles the varied accounts of the ex-high schoolers, attempting to piece together the hows, whys, and whats of their exploits.  For those not familiar, in 2008 and 2009, the real life Bling Ring used Google Maps and tabloid culture to figure out when celebrities were out of town, find their houses, break in, and "go shopping." Though the dollar amount of what they pulled in was extremely high, by the millionaire standards of their targets, they were relatively small time crooks looking for a thrill, designer shoes, and an upgraded wardrobe.  They lived for it, stupidly took pictures of their conquests, partied publicly in their loot, bragged to their friends, posted on Facebook. The Bling Ring robbed Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, and Orlando Bloom, among others, and the Sales piece suggests that their criminal behavior is a sort of extreme example of some desperate need for a new, 21st century kind of inclusion. The evidence is certainly compelling. Sales pulls a quote from conversations with the most media-prevalent of the Ringers, Alexis Neiers, and the line reveals something of her inability to complete a sentence without a name dropped comparison:  

"“I’m a firm believer in Karma,” she said, “and I think this situation was attracted into my life because it was supposed to be a huge learning lesson for me to grow and expand as a spiritual human being. I see myself being like an Angelina Jolie,” she said, “but even stronger..."" 
In an amusing turn, Coppola uses the Angelina Jolie example in a small scene midway through the film. Alexis has been renamed Nicki here (played by Emma Watson), and as she and her "adopted sister" Sam (Taissa Farmiga) sit curled up on an overstuffed couch in tracksuits and Uggs, Nicki's clueless, The Secret-following mother (Leslie Mann) attempts to give them a lesson on building character. She holds up a vision board dotted with Jolie's image -clearly meant to be aspirational- and asks the girls what positive characteristics Jolie possesses that make her a good example.  Nicki and Sam jump immediately to Jolie's "hot bod" and hotter 'husband'. They mean it. This is the level of superficiality Coppola is dealing with here, and, indeed, The Bling Ring is forced to posture itself from a place of vapidity and projected self-obsession. The film that results is a curious product of the voyeuristic society it depicts, and the lifestyles the media obsessively holds up for mass coveting. The film returns to Nicki and Sam repeatedly as a sort of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum of over stimulated youth (in part because there's something knowingly funny about Watson's adoption of a convincing ditz-kid accent), they are the sounding boards for the more recklessly stupid of A-list culture's fanatic devotees.

The true center of the story, though, is the understated push-pull between 'ringleader' Rebecca (Katie Chang) and new kid in town, Marc (Israel Broussard).  They are the origin point, and frightening in their nonchalance. Rebecca is depicted as having an almost sociopathic level of composure.  She's the girl you follow because she's able to convince you that nothing is wrong, that who walks down high school halls and into Paris Hilton's nightclub room with her head held high. Though far from the most engaging character on screen, her teen glamour is self-evident, and Coppola draws her as a TMZ-obsessive sort of femme fatale, the perfect friend and foil for Marc.  At several point in the film, we hear pieces of Marc's interview with Sales in which he reflects on never feeling really attractive. He didn't "look A-list," is the term he uses, and though he's far from a victim of circumstance, it's through Marc and his friendship with Rebecca that Coppola is able to draw out the film's themes.
There's a complete amorality in The Bling Ring, or maybe it's a sort of moral obliviousness.  The characters never seem to have any sense of what's truly right or wrong, and the obligations they have to attend to in their personal lives are nearly nonexistent.  School is an afterthought and something that impinges on their future stardom.  Instead, they're fueled by greed, desire, and a desperate fumbling for the formations of their own identities. When they break in to a celebutante's closet, they hunt desperately for the accessories and outfits they recognize and snap candids of themselves posing near the things they've seen in magazines or on MTV's Cribs.  Each outing is their way of coming into contact with celebrity, and, by proxy, becoming somehow nearer to them; part of their inner circle. Coppola never allows the audience to truly identify with the Bling Ring kids, but doesn't seem to judge them, either.  To her, it seems there's a sadness to the collections of objects they crammed into stolen Birkin bags and Vuitton trunks.  In trying to become an idea of success or happiness, they become merely those collections, the items listed and priced out in magazine after magazine. Their icons are hollow, and each person is not considered a person. Paris Hilton is a curiosity who "has a lot of stuff." Audrina Patridge is noted simply for her style.

As Rebecca, Nicki, Marc, and the others document their forced lifestyle, they become their own paparazzi, hellbent on the construction of an image - of living something enviable- instead of addressing the subject of their own decrepitude.  Online they're dressed up in Herve Leger and Chanel, pouting as they down Grey Goose in a club near Kirsten Dunst. In real life, they're quietly wrecked by drugs, selling unwanted goods on the side of the road, crashing cars, living like trash. Their image-making is telling, and Coppola offers it without comment, finding a strange, satisfying depth in everything superficial.



8 comments:

  1. Yaaaaay. I can't wait to watch this and I'm soooo happy to read a truly positive review!

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    1. I truly, truly dug it, but I can see where many won't. What can I say? I'm a firm believer in...whatever this is.

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  2. Incredible review of a great movie. I loved the hell of Coppola's vision of this material. Everyone in the cast just killed it, and Harris Savides... man, that guy will be missed.

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    1. Yeah, the cinematography in here matches the tone so, so well. Compelling, really consumable material, but Coppola adds some kind of nutrition to it.

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  3. Excellent review. I'm glad there's people that does like this as I know that it's not a film for everyone. Still, I had a fun time watching this as I pretty much love everything Sofia Coppola does. Especially as I think she's getting more confident as a filmmaker.

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    1. I find that I'm only enjoying it more as time passes, totally loved it. I'd be surprised if it doesn't make the end of the year top 10.

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  4. Your blog is really pretty!
    Anyway, I'm seeing this tonight, I'm really excited for it. I find the whole thing fascinating really, I can't believe these kids actually did this. It's insane haha!

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  5. Daring to face these often noxious, seemingly empty phenomena on aesthetic terms, and taking on a degree of their flatness and simplicity, Coppola renders them surprisingly substantial.

    Dwayne Johnston (Eureka Joe's)

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