Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring (2013)

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Marc (Israel Broussard) is a quiet teenager that arrives as a new student at Indian Hills High School in Calabasas, California. Most kids seem to ignore him or think he’s weird, but Rebecca (Katie Chang) is nice to him. She introduces him to her girlfriends and pretty soon they become best friends. They both have a passion for celebrities and their expensive lifestyle and living in Southern California’s wealthy neighborhoods access to their homes is easier than you’d think. Taking advantage of rich people’s scarce attention for security, they are able to break in to their home and get a taste of their stuff. What starts out as innocent home invasion out of boredom, slowly turns into a compulsive impulse to burglarize several celebrity homes in the Hollywood Hills area. Being just teenagers of course they love bragging about the robberies at parties and so it’s only a matter of time before they get caught. 

Writer and director Sofia Coppola‘s fascination with the privileged class’ ennui and our society’s obsession with celebrity once again shines in her most fast paced film to date. The Bling Ring reflects on what it’s like to be a teenager, so it’s only natural for the film to be edited in a hectic and almost incoherent fashion. Slow motion sequences, rapid successions of pictures, Facebook status updates, webcam footage, security cameras, handheld cameras, TV news reports, TMZ recordings, Cellphone cameras: Every existing film stock is used and pieced together into this almost scrapbook-y portrayal of real-life events. There are few contemplative and introspective moments, which is surprising especially if you’ve seen Somewhere, Sofia’s previous film. Working with the same cinematographer, Harris Savides (RIP), to whom she dedicates the film, Sofia is able to recreate real life, almost like in a documentary, while still managing to not turn the film into a dull listing of events.

Based on Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair article The Suspect Wore Louboutins, the film stays as true as possible to the actual events, using real quotes and news footage. Considering how carless and superficial the protagonists of this story really are, it’s great to see the film never descending into parody or making fun of them. They’re not shown as caricatures, but simply as they are, which is humorous and telling enough. It would have been easy to turn the film into a preachy and condescending social commentary, but Sofia was never someone interested in the obvious and unsubtle. She injects the characters with sympathetic characteristics and shows them as real human beings. Yes, they are materialistic and shallow, but at the end of the day they also just want to be part of a group, be accepted and loved. The successful portrayal of these characters is also largely due to the amazing cast of mostly new comers headlined by Israel Broussard and Katie Chang, but also starring Claire Julien as the loud-mouthed party girl Chloe, Taissa Farmiga as the sexy, but obnoxious Sam, Emma Watson as a manipulative bitch named Nicki and Leslie Mann playing an improbable mother.

While the performances are incredibly nuanced, thoughtful and empathic, some of the characters felt underdeveloped and lacking depth, which could be seen as ironic, considering the source material, but it was a bit unsatisfying on a first viewing. Still it is astounding how even the smallest of characters manage to distinguish themselves, even with no back-story provided. As with every Sofia Coppola film the most surprising thing is always the ending and The Bling Ring is no exception. It always feels as if there is no real conclusion or resolution, however that is exactly the point. The real story is not over yet, the people involved are still alive and so the film itself reflects that and is meant as a picture, an outtake of their lives. Just like the film starts at a specific point in their lives it ends at one. Even if we know from the start how it’s going to end, the film is engaging and engrossing enough to make you forget and transporting you in the here and now of the story. 

As with every Sofia Coppola film what I appreciate most is her magical ability to draw you in and make you feel as part of the story. Even if the unorthodox editing of this particular took me out of it a couple times, it still worked for the most part. The film’s look and pacing are also feel different, yet familiar. Sofia’s off beat humor and her heavy use of music return in this splendid and non-judgmental commentary on our well off and disaffected society. Sofia is not interested in stating that the film’s protagonists are criminals: That should be clear. She wants to paint a picture of contemporary America and in that regard she completely succeeds. My only apprehension is how well a film like this will age. While most of her films capture a time and place they all posses a timeless quality as well. The very nature of this film however doesn’t allow for it to be anything else than a snapshot of this very decade. Only time can tell if that’s a good or a bad thing. What I can tell you right now is that this film felt very realistic and honest and whether it will look dated in a couple years or not: It remains a relevant and faithful picture of the times we live in.

Rating on First Viewing
(in theaters)
8.5 out of 10

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12 comments

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