There is a strange, lingering air of both reality and fantasy in Sofia Coppola’s new film, a satirical black comedy concerning a spree of teen robberies. Coppola directs marvellously, but there always feels like there is something not quite right about it, and it’s not as believable as a true story should be. What you eventually come to realise while watching The Bling Ring is that it feels this way because of the sheer bizarreness of the events that took place, and most strikingly the incredible morality of the characters, who in breaking into celebrities houses and stealing their valuables seem incredibly detached from reality and any sort of values. The characters consistently baffled me throughout the movie, and Coppola certainly has a lot to say about their (lack of) ethics, and what is to blame for the way these teenagers turned out to be so detached and alienated from the world around them. Despite mediocre and lukewarm reviews from other critics, I found myself enjoying The Bling Ring immensely through its subtle humour, satirical messages and wonderful acting and directing.
Based on a Vanity Fair article entitled ‘The Suspects Wore Louboutins’, The Bling Ring tells the true story of a group of rich and spoiled group of teenagers who break into various celebrities’ houses, mainly to gawp at the endless riches, often to steal, and sometimes because they really have nothing else to do. What starts out as one daredevil stunt becomes a addictive habit, and in one surreal scene, they find Paris Hilton’s keys under her mat, enter her lavish house, take a bunch of her clothes, snort some coke, dance to loud music in her lounge, and then leave through the front door. It is so easy for these kids, so laughably simple that it is understandable that after they do it once, they seem incapable of stopping. Throughout the course of the film they burgle Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, Rachel Bilson and Lindsey Lohan, each robbery seeming more unbearably easy and more straightforward then the previous one. It seems so easy in fact that the whole film is an incredibly surreal experience, an experience that really doesn’t seem real for the opening half an hour; the characters are too detestable, the events depicted seem overly satirical, and the film treads a thin line from satire to absurd. In many ways it is absurd, but something clicks a little while through the film, whether it is the stunning direction or the faultless performances, something gets into gear that had me incredibly intrigued with this story, and suddenly I believed every moment, every line, even though it seemed too crazy to be true.
Sofia Coppola is one of the most talented directors in Hollywood right now. Although The Bling Ring is one of her less poignant, captivating films, her previous work Lost in Translation is one of the best films of the last fifteen years. While The Bling Ring is a far inferior piece of work, Coppola again reminds us of her talents behind the camera; it is shot with flair and with undeniable beauty and with a very synthetic, unnatural glow to it, much like the protagonists themselves. Coppola presents this glitzy and rich area of America as gleaming white and naturally stylish, but it all feels very empty and very fake, which I believe is Coppola’s intention (and critics who point out this empty feeling of the film are dramatically missing the point). This soulless world has created people that are, if not soulless, very detached thinkers with problematic morals, so utterly alienated from the world around them that they even boast about their recent shenanigans at parties, something which ultimately leads to their downfall. Coppola presents them in an unnatural and almost alien light, as if we cannot really relate to them as members of the same species, something which is compounded by some absolutely terrific performances from a relatively unknown cast, with the main star, Emma Watson, being used as a marketing and promotional tool. And although the newcomers make very impressive debuts (Katie Chang in particular looks to have a very bright future ahead of her), the show is ultimately stolen by Emma Watson.
In the 2012 movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Emma Watson was absolutely marvellous and proved then and there that she had more than enough acting talent to ditch her first famous role as Hermione from the Harry Potter series. In The Bling Ring she is absolutely incredible as the now semi-famous Alexis Neiers, an utterly detestable character who is so pathetically deluded, and so hungry for fame when the opportunity comes her way that she emits an air of snobbishness and arrogance of which I could not stand, and although Coppola uses her character to present some darkly humorous moments, the hard hitting and thought provoking final lines of the film are brilliantly recited by Watson, and the whole film is put into perspective by the final scene. Watson is flourishing, and in The Bling Ring she arguably gives the best performance of her career, despite not playing a huge role in it. The majority of the film actually follows Rachel Lee (Katie Chang) and Nick Prugo (Israel Broussard) as they start the robberies off and eventually enlist more people to share the crime with. Both Chang and Broussard perform admirably on their big screen debuts, but the film does take a while to really get going, perhaps due to the inexperience of the two actors in carrying a film for a large portion of its running time.
Many have argued that Coppola presents a very empty and soulless film, but isn’t that exactly the point? The film suffers due to not enough real characterization of the robbers and maybe even one too many scenes involving the robberies themselves, but this isn’t enough to really deter the impact and clever satirical edge the movie holds over you right to its final lines. Many won’t like it due to a slow pace, and a storyline that understandably gets repetitive as it goes on, but many will like it thanks to its dark humour and clever satirical edge, which are bolstered by some undeniably wonderful directorial techniques by Coppola, and a fantastic performance from Emma Watson. One of the smartest and most undervalued movies of 2013.
The most memorable scene in the movie is an uninterrupted shot of Prugo and Lee robbing a house under the cover of darkness, filmed from such a distance that it appears the teenagers inside are dolls turning all the lights on in a miniature house. They rummage through the drawers, they briefly compare clothes, and then they stalk out. What makes this remarkable scene so memorable is that Coppola brings the audience back down to earth, gives us a little taste of reality, and shows us who the teenagers really are: thieves and criminals. Seeing them efficiently stripping a house of valuables gave me a jolt, a sudden wakeup call as to the seriousness of the events. It’s an eerily silent, emotionless scene, in which Coppola makes so many statements out of silhouettes in a dolls house.
Although it works off fascinating source material, sadly The Bling Ring does become slow and slackens its grip on you. The biggest criticism I can have of The Bling Ring is that, unlike Coppola’s previous work, it isn’t absolutely remarkable and groundbreaking. It is intriguing, well made and wholly excellent, but it isn’t groundbreaking in a way that Sofia Coppola has done before. Many will come out feeling underwhelmed.
The Bling Ring is a very clever satirical piece in which true events are layered with moral statements and dark humour. Through Sofia Coppola’s excellent direction and some stand-out performances, most noticeably from Emma Watson, the Bling Ring is brilliant both as a satire and a black comedy, and its few flaws don’t detract from a great experience. It isn’t wholly remarkable, but it is excellent nonetheless, and reminds Hollywood just how much of a talent Sofia Coppola is.