It’s Style Over Substance in The Bling Ring

Published on June 28th, 2013

When it comes to Sofia Coppola movies, one has come to expect a certain amount of lack. The woman is talented—there’s no question—but it seems as though every film since Lost in Translation has either been painful to watch (Somewhere) or somehow not quite including all the ingredients that make the perfect cauldron of celluloid (Marie Antoinette). Perhaps it is to be expected that a story like that of The Bling Ring’s (the criminals, not the movie) is intended to be superficial, with a hint of moral pontificating thrown in at the end. And of course, there is the standard Coppola fare of packing in as many amazing songs as possible into each scene. But as I’ve always said, it isn’t enough for a film to simply have a memorable soundtrack.

Promotional poster for The Bling Ring

Promotional poster for The Bling Ring

The tale of The Bling Ring has been told many times and publicized in a variety of ways—including the Vanity Fair article after which Coppola’s adaptation is based on, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins.” And let’s not forget that Lifetime movie with Jennifer Grey as well. What it all amounts to is the fact that we seem to be fascinated with people who are fascinated with celebrity. This form of person has, in fact, become a celebrity figure (see: reality star). But then, growing up in Calabasas and Agoura Hills would, presumably, make anyone covet the Hollywood lifestyle just out of her reach. It is within this alternate planet orbiting the universe of L.A. that Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang)–based on bling ringleader Rachel Lee–and Marc Hall (Israel Broussard)–based on Rachel Lee friend and acolyte Nick Prugo–meet at an alternative school for, well, fuck-ups of some variety. In Marc’s case, his attendance at Indian Hills High School occurred after being kicked out of his previous school for chronic absenteeism. Somewhat more scandalously, Rebecca’s exile at Indian Hills is a result of substance possession on campus.

Paris envy.

Paris envy.

As one of the few people to actually reach out and offer her friendship to Marc, he quickly takes a vested interest in pleasing her. One of the most extreme indications of this instant devotion is his willingness to take her to an acquaintance’s home in Woodland Hills who he knows is out of town after she asks if he has any friends whose house they can break into. It is there that they bond over their first burglary together. Their discovery of thousands of dollars in cash seems only to whet their appetite for larger scale heists. Another favorite pastime includes checking for open car doors to see if people have left money or wallets inside. Rebecca is the one to suggest robbing Paris Hilton when she finds out through a gossip website that she’s going to be out of town in Vegas. “She probably leaves her key under the mat,” Marc notes as the film cuts to a scene of him finding said key exactly where he thought it would be. It is in this first instance of a Bling Ring robbery that we’re presumably supposed to start feeling bad for the victims of the crimes–though this is a difficult emotion to muster considering Hilton has so much shit that the group was able to rob her multiple times without her even noticing. In fact, it’s essentially impossible to feel empathy for anyone in the story (save for maybe Marc, who appears motivated mainly by his desire for a real friendship) because they were all privileged to begin with. At least robbery with a legitimate need behind it would evoke a bit more audience compassion.

Valley kids.

Valley kids.

The clear hoarder of the spotlight in The Bling Ring is Emma “Hermione” Watson as Nicki (based on party girl Alexis Neiers). Nicki’s mother (played by Leslie Mann, who has the role of “L.A. woman” down pat) is obsessed with the “teachings” of The Secret. In real life, Neiers’ mother was a Playboy Playmate and her father a former director of photography on Friends. Coppola’s screenplay stays fairly grounded in truth, however, as she even extracts a direct quote from Alexis that appeared in the Vanity Fair article:

“I’m a firm believer in karma 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.”

Naturally, the intonation and manner in which she relays this defense comes across as utterly vacuous. But then, vacuousness is the entire motif of The Bling Ring. Coppola’s recent preoccupation with Los Angeles (Somewhere was also heavy on illustrating the assumed vapidity of the city) seems to be in keeping with the current west coast obsession in general–whether it’s music, fashion or film-related. An opportunity to put a different spin on the time-honored tradition of maligning and mocking the town seems to have been missed by Coppola. Granted, this is based on a true story and Coppola can only take so much creative license with it, it would have been impressive to see her take a Kids approach to representing a city’s effects on teenagers subjected to all the elements that make them ripe for becoming jaded and desensitized.

Emma Watson as "Nicki"

Emma Watson as “Nicki”

As more members continue to join The Bling Ring and capitalize on a plethora of celebrity possessions in the Hollywood Hills, greater attention is paid to the string of robberies. Audrina Patridge is the first victim to post footage of Marc and Rebecca stealing from her, which seems only to fuel Rebecca’s lust for more. When the members of the ring are inevitably caught–including Ricky (Gavin Rossdale, who should consider full-time acting in lieu of being in a band/being Gwen Stefani’s husband), a nightclub owner who bought Orlando Bloom’s stolen Rolexes from Marc–there is nothing but a hollow feeling. You already knew it was going to happen, and the buildup to it doesn’t feel all that rewarding. Each member receives his or her own comeuppance, but what was the point in the end? They robbed some expensive shit and enjoyed it for awhile, but it was ultimately all taken away from them. Like The Bling Ring itself, everything about these characters comes off as inane. With any luck, Coppola will transition to a new locale for her next film, preferably Italy.

 

 

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