It’s hard to watch a movie that contradicts itself, one that tries to preach a message while itself falling prey to many of the problems it’s trying to address. A great example would be 2007’s “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” a movie that spent the better part of two hours ridiculing gay men with insulting stereotypes before telling us all that we shouldn’t do just that. Although they explore different themes, Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” is its dramatic equivalent. While it is supposed to be a critique of our obsession with fame, it instead romanticizes it in a number of ways, making it perhaps the most hypocritical movie of the year.
The movie follows a young man named Marc (Israel Broussard). He’s a somewhat troubled lad, but quickly finds acceptance with Rebecca (Katie Chang), a pretty girl with a wild side. In her desire to live the lavish Hollywood lifestyle, she breaks into celebrity homes while they are away and steals their valuables. She eventually introduces him to her partners in crime, Chloe (Claire Julien), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Nicki (Emma Watson) and despite some initial reluctance, the rewards prove to outweigh the risks, so he joins them in their thievery.
As far as substance goes, “The Bling Ring” doesn’t venture too far from Coppola’s standard cinematic explorations. She has always been fascinated with fame and power, the latter seen with 2006’s “Marie Antoinette” and the former with 2003’s “Lost in Translation” and 2010’s “Somewhere,” but she always explores those areas in different ways. “Lost in Translation,” for example, was about an aging movie star trying to connect with a younger woman while “Somewhere” was about a younger, newly famous movie star that felt strangely empty. “The Bling Ring” explores fame as well, but it does it not from the perspective of a queen or a washed up movie star or an emotionally vacant celebrity, but rather from an outsider’s perspective. It points the camera back at society, at those who desire fame above all else. In that way, the movie will be more relatable to those who view it than her previous works (who hasn’t dreamt of sharing the screen with cinema legends or the stage with your favorite musician?), but more relatable certainly doesn’t mean better.
With shows like TMZ, which is entirely about paparazzo intrusively filming famous people on their casual day-to-day business, and the popularization of insipid reality shows, it’s no secret that we’re a celebrity obsessed culture and the kids in this movie embody it. They talk about how cool it is that Marc’s father is in “the biz,” they have cutouts of desirable celebrities on their walls and to them, happiness isn’t family and friends, but rather exposure to the world. When the law finally catches up to them (and given that this is based on a recent true story, that’s not a spoiler) and the detective tells Rebecca that he spoke to the celebrities she stole from, she leans forward excitedly and asks, “What did Lindsay say?” Unlike Coppola’s other, more understated movies, “The Bling Ring” ends with an all-too-blunt statement: America has a “sick fascination” with fame.
While all of this is well and good, the overall message of the movie conflicts with its presentation. By romanticizing it the way she does, Coppola reinforces the idea that fame is something to be achieved not out of hard work and perseverance, but of vanity. Although the girls get their just punishment, the end result and biggest consequence of their crimes turns out to be newfound fame, exactly what they wanted and hoped to achieve. Even the movie itself is taken from a Vanity Fair article, a magazine comprised mostly of Hollywood fluff, and the characters onscreen are real people who wanted fame and nothing more, so despite some name changes, this movie does nothing but give them more exposure. The movie’s very existence and the road to it contradict its own intended purpose.
That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have some insight. Its characters, who like to exclaim “Oh my God!” usually followed with the remark that something is “sooooo cute” as they rob from these celebrities, are shallow and one-dimensional. Although that would be a detriment to another film, it’s a positive here because their pursuit of fame, likewise, is shallow. These characters are the way they are for a reason, but it’s the glossed up portrayal of their actions that ultimately dooms the movie.
There’s a lot that can be said about, fame and the pursuit of it, but “The Bling Ring” goes about it all wrong. Coppola isn’t a director that likes to spell things out for the viewer, which is one of her greatest strengths. She typically likes to let the viewer decide for themselves about what they’re seeing, so it’s a tad jarring to see her mess this one up so badly. It still has some good moments, particularly the long take extreme long shot as Marc and Rebecca plunder the window-walled home of Audrina Partridge, but it’s not enough to make up for a movie that has a fundamental misunderstanding of its own idea. Sofia Coppola has traditionally been more of a critic’s friend than the regular filmgoer’s, but this time, I’m afraid she’s neither.
The Bling Ring receives 2/5