‘The Bling Ring’ Review
It wasn't until around 40 minutes into 'The Bling Ring' when I realized that, in no way, was this movie supposed to be "fun" or even "enjoyable." That's when I let down my guard, one that had instinctively risen as soon as I encountered the film's despicable characters. And that's when I realized this movie was a little bit brilliant.
Unlike 'Spring Breakers,' which butters you up with ebullience before crashing your mellow with its frenzied social commentary, 'The Bling Ring' is a dark and surprisingly plain-spoken peek at vapid and defiantly unlikable people. Once you break past the wall of resistance – a reasonable response might be to just up and leave the theater after 20 minutes – something of a transformation occurs. As an anthropological work, Sofia Coppola's true-crime tale of high school bandits stealing the designer shoes and gaudy jewelry of the TMZ crowd, is actually a remarkable, albeit dark and depressing affair. It is a challenging work and a unique film.
The story kicks off in a way somewhat reminiscent of Whit Stillman's 'Metropolitan.' Marc (Israel Broussard) is an outsider - a less-affluent transfer student to Indian Hills, a magnet for the LA-area's rich but delinquent kids. He quickly falls in with Rebecca (Katie Chang), a casual drug user who likes to check if car doors are unlocked. The ones that are tend to have treasure inside, and the pair soon bond over the thrill of stealing.
Rebecca's clique includes Chloe, a blonde gal with a scratchy party voice that makes her sound 20 years older, Nicki (Emma Watson), a home-schooled girl paralyzed by social status, and her quasi-adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga). (Their mother, played by Leslie Mann, is centering their upbringing entirely on 'The Secret.') When the group hangs out, they are less interested in having a good time than in making sure they create the perception of having a good time. Facebook selfies in trendy locales are the end goal, and everything in between is just primping.
These are kids who study fashion mags as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls, recognizing designer brands with quick glances, arguing the merits of different “lifestyle brands” the way others discuss baseball stats. Their cyber stalking of celebs (made easy through PR announcements about parties and premieres) give them the intel to know when their idols will be out of town. Why the stars all keep their doors unlocked is another matter.
Soon, our core group are breaking into the homes of the famous-for-being-famous like Paris Hilton and Megan Fox. The lengthy second act of 'The Bling Ring' features a bombardment of repetitive burglary sequences. Shot in a strangely un-thrilling (but not drab) manner, these scenes are boiled down to their essence of superficial people rummaging through closets and freaking out about what they see.
Strangely – and you have to trust me on this – it starts to take on a hazy, dreamlike quality. Juxtaposed with escalating sequences of drug-taking and general bad behavior, 'The Bling Ring' is surprisingly light on the tongue clucking for a reproval of modern culture. It's hardly laudatory, but Coppola is far more interested in getting you in with these people than telling you what to think about them.
While the film is repetitive, it isn't boring; while the world it represents is morally ugly, the picture is striking to look at. It doesn't fetishize the clothing and jewelry as much as you think, but there are a number of striking moments where the action is slowed down to get a real sense of tableaux. A centerpiece is a robbery of a Philip Johnson-esque glass house, shot with a long lens from atop a hill, the two figures scurrying up and down staircases like the 1980s video game 'Crystal Castles.'
Despite my innate adoration of Hermoine Granger, Emma Watson does an admirable job of making you hate her. The only character even slightly sympathetic is Broussard's Marc. There is a disinterested implication that he is gay, but what is even more striking is how none of these kids talk much or engage in any sexuality. They're not interested in interpersonal relationships. They're just interested in getting their hands on stuff.
'The Bling Ring' opens in select theaters on June 14.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.