Sofia Coppola takes on celebrity-obsessed teens
You’d be dead wrong if you thought that Sofia Coppola’s latest movie — the much-publicized screen adaptation of a Vanity Fair article based on real-life events — marks a new departure from her chameleonic transformations as a filmmaker.
It may be argued that there’s at least one unifying element in some of her previous films (Lost in Translation, 2003; Somewhere, 2010): the loss of identity and sense of belonging and the irrepressible need to find it back. The Bling Ring too deals with a group of alienated people, but taken to pathological extremes. The film, based on the appropriately titled Vanity Fair article The Suspects Wore Louboutins, tries hard to expose and analyze a group of teens from an affluent Los Angeles neighbourhood who are obsessed with fame and glamour, so much so that they are pathologically driven to break into the homes of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars and take home a bounty with them.
Running on empty lives, what these drifters have in common — apart from attending an alternative middle school for dropouts — is their lack of positive role models and the incapacity to reinvent themselves, contrary to the wishes of their dim-witted parents, who can see no farther than the cover of a glossy fashion/gossip magazine.
When the new boy in school, Marc (Israel Broussard) finds himself unexpectedly popular thanks to a party invitation from Rebecca (Katie Chang), he becomes trapped — perhaps willingly so — into a gang led by the vicious Rebecca and her entourage of adolescent boys and girls dreaming, one day, of leading a life full of glamour and glitz, easy money, endless opportunities.
What they do have at hand, for the time being, is the chance to burglarize the homes of the filthy rich and famous and steal what they believe is, or ought to be, rightly theirs: designer clothes, shoes and bags, authentic jewellery, and loads of cash. Using the Internet (specifically, the TMZ, Google Maps and celebrityaddressaerial.com web sites), they find out when famous, potential targets will be out, in many cases leaving the doors to their homes unlocked, relying on surveillance cameras and security guards.
Although based on a fascinating true story that made headlines in gossip magazines, Coppola’s The Bling Ring is slow, too slow kicking in, so much so that the first 1/3 of the movie resembles a sluggish novel in which the characters are presented in a cut and dry manner, with no undertones, no shades of grey. Like a fashion show, in short.
It is only when the teens’ testimonies are interspersed in the main narrative that The Bling Ring starts to take shape and capture viewers’ attention, for these are the only instances in which you see their real selves and not the shiny, polished surfaces they present to the world.
Unlike a documentary or a faux documentaire, the footage is revealing and never boring. Indeed, these snippets run the precise length, then fade to black and jump cut to the narrative of the actual turn of events.
While it is easy to see why Coppola was so mesmerized and thrilled as to develop a script detailing the teens’ “adventures” and explore the social malaise behind it, her film is a succinct account of the youngsters’ exploits and not much more, save for the occasional insight into the boredom and lethargy of rich kids who choose to rob the “rich pigs,” as they scribble on a starlet’s boudoir after ransacking her fabulous designer clothes and jewels.
In true cinéma verité and Method style, before the start of main photography, Ms. Coppola reportedly got the cast to fake-burgle a house to see what mistakes her actors would make.
The problem with The Bling Ring, however, does not lie in the authenticity of the burglaries, nor in the teen robbers’ anxiety and fear of being caught, for this is what gets them high on an adrenaline rush. The trouble with the film is that Ms. Coppola most certainly grasped the corruption of the social fabric of the upper crust of society, but her perception is not rightly reflected in the movie.
When Nicki, one of the ring leaders, is caught on camera pretending to fence off the paparazzi covering her arrest, The Bling Ring seems to be ironically telling us that she eventually achieved her goal — her own fifteen minutes of fame, even if for the wrong reasons.
The joke, however, falls flat and fails to make the point that it is us, viewers, as a consummerist, voyeuristic society, that feed the vultures and The Fame Monsters.