Sofia Coppola Captures Cult of Celebrity in ‘The Bling Ring’

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CHICAGO – We live a celebrity-driven culture that not only easily dismisses when its celebutantes get DUIs but practically sees the occasion as a rite of passage. We follow gossip websites to the degree that we know the schedules of people who are famous just for being famous better than we know our family’s. And these celebrities are feted with gifts to the degree that they wouldn’t notice if most of their possessions went missing. Sofia Coppola’s incredibly entertaining “The Bling Ring” dares to subtly make the case that the kids who very casually decided to begin robbing TMZ’s most-beloved in the Hollywood Hills grew from this modern world of misplaced priorities. Her film walks that fine line where some will criticize it for excusing their behavior while others will think it mocks them too openly. Both miss the point. The brilliance of “The Bling Ring” is in the question it presents as its thesis – “Can you really blame them?”

Marc (Israel Broussard), the only character for whom it could be argued Coppola presents true sympathy, is the new kid at school. He’s drawn to Rebecca (Katie Chang), a beautiful girl who has a similar interest in fashion and celebrity culture. She seems to even be slowly becoming like the red-carpet dwellers she admires in fashion magazines, vapid stare and all. Marc mistakes Rebecca’s egotism as depth and essentially becomes her unwilling partner in crime.

The Bling Ring
The Bling Ring
Photo credit: A24

Rebecca sees a news item on TMZ or one of its wannabes about a celebrity being out of town and asks Marc to Google the address. Then, with surprising ease, Rebecca & Marc go “shopping.” It starts off relatively benign – going through Paris Hilton’s closet, checking out her shoes, playing in her nightclub room, etc. Before you know it, Rebecca is trying to steal her dog and taking art off Miranda Kerr’s wall. The recklessness of their crimes makes their capture for them inevitable, although it takes a stunningly long time. They brag to friends, sell stolen goods, post pictures on Facebook, and are caught on security cameras long before any of them garner police interest.

Marc & Rebecca are not alone. They’re joined by the remarkably vapid Nicki (Emma Watson) & Sam (Taissa Farmiga). Nicki’s mother Laurie (Leslie Mann) agreed to take in Sam as her own daughter after some vague controversy with her mother and counsels the girls in the way of “The Secret” every morning while ignoring the true problems they are clearly having. The supposition that a bit of mindless inspirational speaking over breakfast can serve as true parenting is tragically hysterical. Chloe (Clarie Julien), Nicki’s sister Emily (Georgia Rock), Rob (Carlos Miranda), and a stolen goods dealer named Ricky (Gavin Rossdale) get caught up in the “Ring.”

The Bling Ring
The Bling Ring
Photo credit: A24

99 out of 100 filmmakers would have turned “The Bling Ring” into a cautionary tale (and the true story of this group of celeb-obsessed misfits has already been a Lifetime TV Movie) but Coppola doesn’t make films that morally cut-and-dry. She spends more time presenting the spoils of the “Bling Ring” culture than she does demonizing those who love it. The teens go clubbing in their new clothes, take selfies ad nauseam, drive drunk, and steal, steal, steal.

Working with editor Sarah Flack, cinematographers Christopher Blauvelt and the great Harris Savides (who passed before he could complete the film), and employing one of the best soundtracks of the year, Coppola has captured Hollywood celeb culture and those obsessed by it in a startlingly fascinating way. Even just her song choices – it feels like no coincidence that admittedly egocentric Kanye West pops up twice, and both in songs that fit thematically (“All of the Lights” & “Power”) – are the sign of someone working at a higher level. There’s a stunning degree of confidence in the filmmaking here. Coppola knows exactly what she wants and how to achieve it.

The Bling Ring
The Bling Ring
Photo credit: A24

As for performances, they’re all strong but the film is kind of stolen by Watson, especially in an interview scene with Mann that’s truly fantastic. Without spoiling anything, I find the final act of “The Bling Ring” riveting in that Coppola refuses to mock her protagonists and yet finds a way to highlight their stunning naïvete and general stupidity at the same time (my biggest criticism would be that I wish Coppola had gotten there more quickly…less set-up, more pay-off).

Are they vapid and is the film equally so by refusing to stand above them? Arguably, but isn’t that the point? Do we really want to see a film about “The Bling Ring” that presents its characters as just another example of youth gone wild for us to be superior over? We’ve seen that before. “The Bling Ring” does something much more daring just by presenting these fame-centric kids as what they are – a product of the world around them.

“The Bling Ring” stars Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Georgia Rock, Carlos Miranda, Leslie Mann, and Gavin Rossdale. It was written & directed by Sofia Coppola. It is now playing in some markets and opens tomorrow, June 21, 2013 in Chicago. content director Brian Tallerico

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