The Bling Ring
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Written by: Sofia Coppola (screenplay), Nancy Jo Sales (article)
Starring: Katie Change, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson and Taissa Varmiga
Comparisons between Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers are inevitable. They both engage the surfacy perception of millennial femininity in shocking and brazen ways, and they both involve crime whose success is rooted in upper middle class privilege.
As for the two movies’ styles, though, they couldn’t be more different. Korine uses pop music to heighten the experience to an almost sugary level, while Coppola denies that pleasure intentionally. There are elegant scenes of slow motion and dance club outings, but they are rooted in an awkward realism and end so abruptly that it makes them hard to enjoy. If Spring Breakers’ mantra was “Pretend like it’s a video game,” then this movie’s is almost certainly “Pretend like it’s a reality show.”
In nearly every scene, the troubled, attractive youth talk about celebrities and their stuff. They casually start stealing it after using gossip websites to track the stars’ travels so they know when to strike. Coppola uses this opportunity to explore a theme that’s prominent in many of her other films: an outsider suddenly (and tragically) introduced to a culture of glamor. Whereas Marie Antoinnette often felt trapped and alone, though, the teens of The Bling Ring are too blinded by brand names to realize how stupid they’re being.
Rebecca (Katie Chang) and Marc (Israel Broussard) are at the center of the ring, and most of the movie is told from Marc’s point of view. Broussard does a good job at playing him as shy and nervous, but also shows how comfortable he is being himself around his friends. He is one of the most authentic young gay characters I’ve seen in a movie, and though his ending is tragic, it’s also earned and has nothing to do with his sexuality.
The other members of the ring come from more affluent backgrounds. Nicki (Emma Watson) is by far the most conniving and annoying of the bunch, and has a personality ripped right from an episode of The Hills. Watson does a good job at conveying that, but the performance at times felt (unintentionally) too much like a Saturday Night Live character. However, the rest of the cast balances that level of self-conscious glitz out very well.
Coppola never really allows the camera to indulge in the lifestyle that the teens are so desperately trying to steal, though, and that distance is mostly successful but sometimes leaves the characters annoyingly out of reach. She is very adept at observing the class distinctions motivating each one of them, but the talking head interviews with the reporter who writes the article that the screenplay is based on do little to deepen the story. In fact, they make it feel more like a reality show, and not in a good way.
If the movie is not completely successful at exploring the individuals behind these celebrity robberies, it is good at showing us the club party mentality that inspires it. The repercussions of the thefts have more of a weight on the poorer kids, and one of them uses the spotlight as a way to project herself into the zeitgeist. Coppola, up until now, has made a career out of characters looking to escape that spotlight and its responsibilities, something she obviously knows all too well. By taking the perspective of people trying to break in, she pokes fun at the absurdity of celebrity life by showing what it looks like when it’s regular people who act that way.