I have been travelling with my partner, and at one point, we ran out of clean socks and underwear and the only place open and nearby with such items was Urban Outfitters. Normally, I don’t shop there because the store is mostly owned by a man who donated $13,000 to Rick Santorum; also their clothes are wildly overpriced considering how shoddily they’re made. But I was desperate. When I was paying, I noticed that the store was promoted The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola’s new movie about the band of teen-aged thieves who robbed Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and others in 2008 and 2009. A day later, when I showed the cashier that after one wearing the socks’ seams had pulled apart, I again saw the film’s poster on the little screen where I punched in my debit card PIN. I think the irony is lost on Urban Outfitters: They are best known and most criticized for ripping off the styles of hipsters and high-end designers and they’re promoting a movie about the criminal deeds of pathologically superficial wannabe fashionistas. Not ironically, the movie is as flimsy as the socks I bought.
The Bling Ring was a group of teen-agers from Calabassas who – due to mixture of drugs, ennui, and materialism – burgled the homes of celebrities in the Hollywood Hills. They would read on gossip sites that Hilton, Bloom, Lindsay Lohan or Rachel Bilson were out of town filming a movie or hosting a party, look up their addresses with Google, and then break in, usually through an unlocked door or window. They made off with $3 million in cash, clothes, and jewelry before being caught, which happened not only because they kept showing up on security cameras but also because they would brag about the robberies to their friends and pose for pictures wearing the stolen goods and then post the photos of Facebook. Vanity Fair sent Nancy Jo Sales to write about these entitled, clueless kids, and Coppola adapted the article, changing only the names and some minor details, into her fifth feature film. It is certainly her weakest film, but this does not mean it is not entertaining, just disappointing and wrong-headed.
For some reason, Coppola cast unknowns as her leads, Katie Chang as ringleader Rebecca and Israel Broussard hanger-on Marc. While Broussard seemed naturalistically at ease in his role as an emotionally troubled, vaguely gay kid desperate for friends, Chang, while doing beautiful and snide as well as any ingénue, delivered her lines as woodenly as Coppola herself did in her much-maligned role in The Godfather, Part 3. Throughout, line readings by almost everyone in the film, including pros like Emma Watson and Leslie Mann, were awkwardly timed and toned. In her previous films, Coppola has coaxed brilliant performances from her actors (Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Kirsten Dunst, Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning), but the acting in The Bling Ring was amateurish, which in turn made Coppola’s dialogue seem much weaker than it probably does on the page. It’s also possible that as she makes yet another film about the emptiness of wealth and consumerism, it’s becoming increasingly clear that she doesn’t have much to say about them.
I’ve read comparisons between The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers, and they are both exercises in youthful vapidity, though Coppola’s movie is much less offensive and much less interesting. And she did not seem to be interested in Korine’s brand of shock and awe. In tilting the film in the last act towards Watson’s wannabe starlet character, a girl who is both deliberately dishonest and totally deluded, Coppola seems to be quoting Gus Van Sant’s classic To Die For. But Emma Watson is not yet Nicole Kidman. That said, Coppola should be commended for her artful, almost Nan Goldin-like camera work, as well as for persuading Paris Hilton to allow herself and her own empty wealth and consumerism to be mocked throughout the film. At least one person has a sense of irony about the whole thing.
The Bling Ring
Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola
Starring Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, and Emma Watson
At your local multiplex