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Entries in Sofia Coppola (2)

Thursday
Jun202013

The Bling Ring

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

Wednesday
Dec222010

Somewhere

Sofia Coppola’s movies seem so simple on the surface, but always prove more than meets the eye, with thoughtful subtexts that too many filmgoers seem to miss. As a colleague of mine recently said to me, “Those that say ‘nothing happened’ have completely missed the point.” Her newest movie, Somewhere, is quiet, understated and sublime. Rebounding from the mixed reaction she received from her last picture, Marie Antoinette, Coppola has returned to the glory of her 2003 hit, Lost in Translation. Somewhere is a spiritual successor to that film, in tone and style, and if you liked it, you’ll probably like this.

Stephen Dorff plays our protagonist, Johnny Marco. When we meet him, he seems a loner. He wastes his days away driving his car around and chasing women, just to end up back home alone drinking booze and ordering pole dancers. He has some friends, but he seems disconnected from them. When he finally does get a girl, he ends up falling asleep on top of her before the fun begins. He comes off as a lonely, downtrodden vagabond, never quite sure what he’s going to be doing from day to day, and you begin to feel sorry for him. Then, suddenly, we find out he’s a big Hollywood actor. This sudden flip in perspective is jarring, but in a good way.

The beginning of the film features very little dialogue and you see Johnny at his barest. As an actor, he’s almost always surrounded by a number of people, including fans, agents and paparazzi. He lives a lifestyle where he is never really alone, yet you gain the understanding that he is. Coppola, who also wrote the screenplay, smartly hides his profession so as not to skew how viewers see him.

Eventually, his daughter, Cleo, played by Elle Fanning, comes into the picture, surprising him with a visit while he goes through the motions on a PR tour for his newest film. She’s a bubbly young eleven year old and loves her dad, even though he hasn’t always been around. Her appearance in the picture once again allows us to view Johnny through a different lens. When she arrives, he is clearly happy to see her and not once does he complain to her that he is too busy. In fact, he takes her along with him on his tour and does his best to make time for her.

However, he is not always consistent, which makes him a difficult character to decipher. Sometimes women take priority, like in a scene where he sneaks one into his hotel room while Cleo sleeps, but other times the opposite is true and he blows off women to spend time with her. This inconsistency is okay, however, because that’s how humans work. We don’t always consider our priorities and our urges end up getting the best of us. In regards to human nature, Somewhere is the most realistic movie I’ve seen in quite some time.

Somewhere is a minimalist movie in sight and sound. When possible, Coppola keeps the camera still and she mercifully takes her time in telling the story, as opposed to the kinetic pace of most Hollywood productions. If there’s a performance of, well, anything, you’ll see it in full. You’ll see a complete ice skating rehearsal and not one, but two stripteases to the end. It’s slow moving, but it’s never dull.

Hesitance going into the movie is understandable. It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea and the main star, Stephen Dorff, hasn’t done anything interesting since, let’s be honest, 1998’s Blade. But don’t let that stop you. Dorff gives a magnificent performance and makes you wonder why he isn’t hired to star in more major films. Actually, the entire cast is up to the challenge, with the only weak standout being Chris Pontius as Johnny’s best friend, though the fact that he could even remember and recite his lines seems like a minor miracle given the assumption that is he probably on some sort of drug, either for recreation or to curb the pain from his endeavors in the Jackass movies.

There is so much to discuss in Somewhere that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. It’s a movie that demands repeated viewings because you won’t gather all of its intricacies in one sitting. I know I didn’t. And that, if anything, is what makes this film great.

Somewhere receives 4/5