Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bling-bling! Ka-ching! Ka-ching! The Bling Ring

The scariest thing about teens Rebecca (Katie Chang), Marc (Israel Broussard), Nicki (Emma Watson), Chloe (Claire Julien), and Samantha (Taissa Farmiga) is that they come from financially comfortable backgrounds and yet they feel a need to burglarize celebrity homes and steal their stuff, and they do it without the slightest twinge of a guilty conscience. Obsessed with the lifestyles of the rich and famous, they break into L.A. celebrity homes and casually select from the shoes, clothing, and jewelry of the likes of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and Lindsay Lohan, so that they can own the things that make these celebrities who they are. That the closets and rooms from which the pilfer are filled with items all neatly arrayed as in a store, not one shoe on the floor or out of place, suggests that Paris and Orlando and Lindsay are extremely obsessive compulsive, but I don’t think that’s the case. Most likely it’s a visual statement that the teen burglars see the possessions as goods meticulously arrayed for their taking, but it was an unrealistic element that really bothered me. Doesn’t Paris have a pile of jewelry or shoes that she hasn’t had time to put away? Don’t celebrity homes look lived in? In addition, the homes of the teenagers are sterile, brand-new, and uncluttered. This may well be a thematic statement, but it distances me from reality.

Sofia Coppola’s direction captures the glitz that these teens worship, and the performances are solid. Newcomer Katie Chang, as Rebecca, the ringleader, stands out. Chang’s performance portrays Rebecca as a sociopathic monster with ice water in her veins and nary a trace of emotion mixed in with the haughty expression on her pretty face. Indeed, Chang is scary to watch. Emma Watson as Nicki is not as convincing. Watson walks the snooty, spoiled-brat walk, and she talks the shallow, materialistic talk, but Watson’s portrayal of Nicki exposes its artificial seams whereas Chang’s performance stands out solidly, and chillingly, beyond artifice.

Of course, The Bling Ring resembles Spring Breakers in many ways. In both films, hedonistic teenagers without consciences, all girls except for one boy in Ring, commit ruthless acts encouraged by the licentious lifestyles glorified by the media. But the Spring Breakers go much farther than the Bling Ringers, and the impact of Spring Breakers is much more emotional and visceral.

Sofia Coppola’s film is very well made, but it is mostly a repetitious montage of break-ins and celebratory debauchery, and we don’t get to know too much about these celebrity-obsessed pirates. Coppola effectively captures their cold temerity. She shows their pathological incapacity to own up to what they have done. On the surface, what we see is shocking. But, however well framed it might be, what you see is what you get. When it comes to the end, there seems to be something missing. The film and its characters seem undeveloped; the drama and conflicts never seem to kick in. Everything about the film seems as shallow as the glitzy lifestyles the Bling Ringers attempt to hijack. Perhaps that’s the point, but perhaps the film should have given us something more to remember the point by.

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