It'll be interesting to see how Sofia Coppola's new film, The Bling Ring, is viewed in a decade. The true events of the film -- a group of teens easily trespassing and stealing from celebrities that took place over a ten-month period in 2009 to 2010 -- already feels a little dated. One of the real life members of the group, Alexis Neires (here renamed Nicolette "Nicki" Moore, and played by Emma Watson) has already been a subject on a reality TV show that has already come and gone (Pretty Wild). The celebrities that they targeted (Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge, Megan Fox, Orlando Bloom and Rachel Bilson) are mostly punchlines or below the title performers now. Things change so fast. Hell, when these kids were taking photos of themselves in the club with all their stolen cash, purses and clothes they didn't even have Instagram or Vine! They could merely share their exploits on Facebook and Twitter!
All of these qualities actually enhance the film version: celebrities are now divided into camps, those that are famous for being famous and those that are famous for their craft, and Coppola never really needs to tap too deeply into her characters motivations -- everything they steal turns into a post-grab party photoshoot to upload and impress people, get some comments, get some more followers. This is the age of self-branding. The famous for being famous are a brand -- and now -- you too can become a brand with sexy selfies, proper hashtags and photos that show you living a higher status than you actually are! Currently, the film at the top of the box office is The Purge -- a home invasion horror film. The Bling Ring is a different home invasion film. Watching it, I felt like I was watching a horror-comedy.
It's horrific for the trends and seemingly accurate level of entitlement shown; comedic for the real quips of dialogue from Watson (fantastic, playing against type as a home-schooled attention seeker), who freebases OxyContin in her bedroom, and may "want to lead a country" some day, and Nicki's mom (Leslie Mann), who creates vision boards of admirable women (like Angelina Jolie), doles out the daily doses of Adderall to her daughters, and leads them in ritualistic spiritual "prayers" ending with the phrase "and so it will be."
I'd put The Bling Ring in the same category as Marie Antoinette, which I think is Sofia Coppola's best film. Both of these films revel in excessive lifestyles (Antoinette takes place in the elegant ballrooms, dining halls and living quarters of Versailles; accentuated with ornate gowns, cakes and wigs -- Technicolor Candyland dreams before Technicolor or Candyland. The Bling Ring is largely set in the ridiculously bursting closets, built in club atmosphere and self-love portrait hallways of celebrity homes). But the strength of both of these films hinge on what isn't shown.
In Antoinette you are pulled into an excessive dream world of royalty where the citizens are hardly mentioned, and never shown. When the citizens do arrive to overthrow the king and queen they are still never shown as individuals, just a globular mass of shouts and flickering torches. Coppola pauses and fades, choosing not to film the physical storming of The Versailles. Instead we see it afterward: empty, with nice furniture destroyed. Even the citizens thirst for blood wasn't voiced. Their carnage and revolution was shown through her pretty things being destroyed, not her pretty head in a guillotine.
In The Bling Ring the band that we follow are either home-schooled or attending a high school of suburban miscreants, expelled from their previous schools. They live in Calabasas, more modestly than their mansion neighbors, but certainly beyond that elastic middle class. They're bored and they're brand conscious.
They all want a brand and know the proper terminology. Rebecca (Katie Chang, in a dangerously effervescent debut) wants her own line. Marc (Israel Broussard) wants a "lifestyle" brand. They bond over knowing the shoes that celebrities are wearing in the candid photos of magazines and reading celebrity gossip ("Lindsay [Lohan] got another DUI." They laugh. Lindsay has a new brand: an outlaw.) They decide to look up the addresses of celebrities when they go out of L.A. for events in Vegas or New York, brainstorming which would be dumb or easygoing enough to leave a door unlocked, or a key under the mat; later they invite Nicki, Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien) to Paris Hilton's, and they keep returning.
What Coppola doesn't show in The Bling Ring are the celebrities. Even though they're in their houses, the celebrities still exist like they are in a magazine: with a lot of accessories and seemingly not real. That a camera is present almost makes them feel invited, like we are watching an updated version of MTV Cribs where a fan is granted access to a celebrity home for a day (celebs are lauded for their quality of fan interaction in social media, this could realistically be next). Coppola isn't judgmental, she just watches. It almost feels victimless.
This was the last film by the great cinematographer Harris Savides, a digital filmmaking maverick -- see David Fincher's Zodiac - who died during production; this is Coppola's first foray into digital storytelling, and it gives The Bling Ring an appropriate TV feeling, that seamlessly jumps to incredibly cinematic. There is a fantastic long shot of Chang and Broussard running through Audrina Patridge's gorgeous, modernly sterile and sleek house. It's one take, from afar. They take items. The lights turn off and on. There's a perfect magic to this shot, like they've invaded not a home, but a perfectly constructed playhouse, or been shrunk and stepped into a miniature wonderland.
That Coppola keeps the celebrities voiceless (a flip from Antoinette; now the privileged live amongst us, but are rarely home) helps to keep the film from being about celebrity worship, and more about branding. Rebecca shifts from saying, "let's go to Paris'" to saying "I need some Chanel."
Appropriately, Coppola ends the film with Nicki telling an interviewer her website URL for people to follow her life after prison. She's created her own brand. #horror #comedy
"The Bling Ring" opens in New York and Los Angeles Friday, June 14, and then expands nationwide on June 21.
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