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Film review: THE BLING RING, from Built For Speed

Sophia Coppola’s latest film The Bling Ring is based on a 2010 Vanity Fair article about the antics of a group of LA high school kids who broke into the homes of dubious celebrities like Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge and Lindsay Lohan to steal clothes and jewellery.

In Sophia Coppola’s film the group are led by bratty alpha-female Nikki (Emma Watson) and the more calculating Rebecca (Katie Chang).  Joining Nikki and Rebecca on their nocturnal raids are nervous, good-natured Mark (Israel Broussard) and a gaggle of larcenous young ladies including the foul-mouthed Chloe (Claire Julien) who is only slightly less vile than the girls in Springbreakers.

The Bling Ring isn’t so much a true crime film as a tentative examination of America’s addiction to celebrity.  The film depicts aimless middle class teens immersed in a world of social media, gossip websites, fashion magazines and TV shows like TMZ. The teens only aspiration seems to be achieving the kind of fame and material wealth afforded their questionable heroes.  Some of the blame is also attributed to negligent parents like Nikki’s flaky mother (Leslie Mann) who home-schools her daughters and spouts loopy new-age philosophies based on the self-help book The Secret.

Stylistically, this film recalls a number of previous Sophia Coppola movies.  As she did in Marie Antoinette, Coppola adoringly films extravagant displays of wealth and material excess particularly the stars’ endless rows of shoes and gaudy clothes.  Also, the framing, sound design by long-time Coppola collaborator Richard Beggs, the soft-focus cinematography, the muted emotions and casual dialogue recall Coppola’s directorial debut The Virgin Suicides. While this approach perfectly suited the wistful, melancholic 70’s nostalgia and dreamy romantic recollections of The Virgin Suicides, it just leaves The Bling Ring lethargic and devoid of drama and tension.

The film drifts along in a languid rinse repeat cycle of: kids searching the celebrity’s address on the internet search, breaking in to their house, stealing their stuff, selling the loot then getting wasted at a nightclub. There was probably enough plot here for a 20 minute short film but stretched out to feature length, it looks a little thin. The film tries to insert a Perks of Being A Wallflower-type narrative with Mark the shy misfit finding acceptance and friendship in the group but this dramatic thread is never adequately developed.

The cast, however, do a decent job within the limitations of the script as they accurately and amusingly capture the selfishness and vacuousness of kids with a distorted sense of entitlement.

The film also has the bizarre novelty of having been shot in the homes of Bling Ring victims such as Paris Hilton.  The Hilton mansion is a Wonderland of kitsch with her face festooning walls and sofa cushions and her shoe cupboard bigger than most people’s homes. She also has a nightclub room with a stripper pole in her house.  Paris Hilton appears briefly in the film as does Kirsten Dunst.

Perhaps Sophia Coppola became a little too mesmerised herself by the stars’ extravagant wealth and gargantuan wardrobes as this film lacks the focus, drive and tension needed for it to become a compelling drama or a genuinely insightful study of celebrity obsession gone crazy.

 

Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Sophia Coppola.

Release date: 8th Aug 2013

Running time: 90 mins.

 

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