"MOVIE MAD" by Michael van den Bos

(c) 2014 by Michael van den Bos


THE BLING RING - Directed by Sofia Coppola

Cast: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Georgia Rock, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann.




Rating: 2 out of 5 Chaplins. 

Sofia Coppola’s new movie takes its inspiration from the real-life home burglaries of Hollywood glitterati by a group of youths during late 2008 through the summer of 2009.  The Bling Ring, which is the sparkling sobriquet the media tagged this mostly female group of spoiled and stupid celebrity-obsessed teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, is another in a line of movies in which Coppola focuses her lens on the anxieties and behaviours of upwardly mobile teenagers and young adults (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation).  One of Coppola’s recurrent themes is the angst of living in or orbiting a world of privilege, fashion, celebrity and popular media (Marie Antoinette, Somewhere).  Coming from a famous filmmaking family no doubt gave Sofia Coppola an all-access pass over the years to this insular A-List party of power celebrities.  She should be tackling this material with insider knowledge, but she is too fixated on the crimes and blinded by the bagged bling to explore deeper motivations and meaning.   With a screenplay written by Sofia Coppola (based on a Vanity Fair article, "The Suspect Wore Louboutins" by Nancy Joe Sales), The Bling Ring attempts an examination of the New Millennium mania for fame, possessions and celebrity lifestyle by social media addicted teenagers lacking from core values and authentic personal identity.  Coppola’s flat and facile treatment is as empty as the values of the characters she has brought to the screen. 

Taking place in the Los Angeles area, The Bling Ring follows Rebecca (Katie Chang), a cold and conniving teenager from an affluent family who wallows in celebrity gossip, fashion and reality TV.   Rebecca lures Marc (Israel Broussard), an insecure teenage boy into a band of thieves she forms with likeminded girlfriends (Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien) ,who target the homes of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Lindsay Lohan and other real-life Hollywood stars.   (Paris Hilton has a fleeting cameo in the movie and she allowed Coppola to shoot in her actual home, which – no surprise – is a shrine to all things Paris.)  Rebecca and Marc plan their robberies by scouring celebrity websites to learn when the stars are away from L.A. and then search for their home addresses through Google Maps.  From there the teenage thieves steel jewelry, cash, clothes, watches, drugs and even a gun from the pop stars they worship.  These brainless bandits commit their crimes without concern for the fingerprints they leave behind or consideration of security cameras – they deserve to be caught, if only for their mere ineptitude.  Therefore, it is no spoiler to report that the police eventually catch up with the teenagers and arrest them; they all go to trial, indicted for their crimes and receive prison sentences.      

The real events of the” Bling Ring” (a.k.a.: the” Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch”) is certainly a cautionary tale worthy of a film treatment for what it represents in our culture of celebrity lifestyle consumption, especially among easily targeted, susceptible youth who are ignorant of moral values and lack self-esteem, likely due to thoughtless and lazy parenting.  The parents of the teenagers in Coppola’s movie are largely absent and when on screen they are simply clueless cyphers.  The exception is Leslie Man, playing Emma Watson’s flakey mother, who homeschools her daughter in a curriculum based on The Secret, a book about the laws of attraction, written by Rhonda Byrne.   Mann gives The Bling Ring its only humour.  Her character is a misguided mother, but she feels real, unlike the other parents in the movie.  I do not doubt the real-life parents of these teenagers were ignorant of their children’s lack of self-worth, failing to nurture their personal confidence and dignity, resulting in stunted maturation.  Nevertheless, when Coppola neglects the parents’ role in the debacle of their children, other than presenting them as dopes, then The Bling Ring remains one-dimensional.   

In general, the performances in The Bling Ring range from adequate to anemic.   There are no real standouts among the young actors.  Emma Watson as Nicki struggles to bring life to her role, coming off weak, which is surprising since she brought such natural skill and genuine feeling to her portrayal of Hermione Granger in the HARRY POTTER series.   Katie Chang as the bling leader, Rebecca, and Israel Broussard, as Rebecca’s semi-cross-dressing partner, Marc, suggests brief moments of character depth, but that is too obviously due to what those actors bring to their roles and not in how they were written.  As the screenwriter, Coppola misses the opportunity to explore what must have been a complex relationship of foolish dedication, twisted affection and unrequited attraction Marc held for Rebecca.   In the movie, Marc suggests his feelings for Rebecca were that of a close brother and sister relationship, but there seems to be other needs and longings only hinted by their conspiratorial collaboration, as conveyed on screen, that Coppola fails to plumb. 

The screenplay of The Bling Ring is perfunctory and Sofia Coppola’s direction does not fare much better; it is as equally banal as her writing.  Although slightly more watchable than her last cinematic effort, the flaccid Somewhere (2010), The Bling Ring shows none of the sublime flair of Coppola’s bewitching mood piece, Lost in Translation (2003), starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.   Coppola finds no visual poetry that could make The Bling Ring resonate in its themes.  Even her use of slow motion feels arbitrary and therefore pretentious.  

What Coppola delivers is a crime story for the Facebook and TMZ generation, but as prosaic as the postings on that ubiquitous social media website and as shallow as the latest celebrity gossip report.


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