It’s just awesome…and cute. What is, you ask? Pretty much everything in the world of the teenagers who are so bored with their lives in Calabasas, California, that they decide to break into the houses of celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, and Paris Hilton, steal some stuff, and then buy more stuff paid for by the stuff they stole.
This film is all about “stuff,” really – “Wow, Paris has so much stuff,” one teenager says when they enter yet another room in (the ACTUAL) not-very-tastefully designed cave of narcissism that is Paris Hilton’s home. They find sunglasses, closets full of shoes (cute!), closets full of ironic accessories (sooo cute!) and dresses and handbags and money and maybe a gun and a lot of bling-bling and even more bling.
The Bling Ring is the new film by Sofia Coppola, one of the few successful independent female directors in Hollywood, responsible for timeless gems such as The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation. There is something like a Coppola signature in all her films, which for me comes down to a combination of moody camera work, original pop soundtracks, very artful mise-en-scenes, and the ability to observe her characters respectfully, sensitively, and tenderly. All this applies to The Bling Ring, with the astonishing new ingredient of shallowness.
A friend said to me, “I bet the film is not very substantial,” and though he had only heard of it, he was hitting the nail right on the head. The Bling Ring is in fact not a great film, but a very interesting and daring project nonetheless. Quite frankly, the story of a group of entitled white kids from the suburbs of L.A. breaking into the villas of stars was already told in a widely-read Vanity Fair article called “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” that this film was based on. The background details are no secret: Alexis Neiers was a party girl with (occasionally) her own reality TV show and she was in jail at the same time that her “victim” Lindsay Lohan was. Nick Prugo, the real boy behind the character of Marc has also given numerous interviews in the meantime and has become his own celebrity of sorts.
The facts: a) this is a film about a very recent and much-discussed event. We don’t know how they did it exactly, but we can Google it a great deal; b) there is no surprise in the story and Coppola knows that. She interweaves scenes after the arrest with the actual story and interrupts the narrative with re-enacted material of the Vanity Fair interviews. The only suspense we get is when they will actually get caught, but even that is not a big surprise moment in the film. In fact, we never learn how the police found out; c) There are no likable characters in the film, except maybe for Marc, who has more than one dimension and whose involvement in the thefts is vaguely linked to his coming out as a fashion- and star-obsessed gay boy.
But listen, I am not here to bitch about small films (debatable in this case) or tell you which independents I hate. This column is supposed to be a forum for recommendations and although a film like The Bling Ring doesn’t need to be “discovered” to a degree that other films should be, there is a lot I love about it.
All critique aside, Coppola is quite a genius director and her film is a pretty brave and extremely entertaining statement on the big shiny nothingness of lifestyle, star cults, fashion, Facebook, blogs, and… stuff. What makes The Bling Ring so daring in my eyes is the fact that it is not in the least bit interested in psychoanalysis or moral judgements. We don’t really know what drove these kids and we never find out. They seem not to have many social values. (Are they really friends, or are they only doing it for the Facebook fame? Is there anything that holds them together socially apart from what they are doing?) The only things of value in their lives seems to be the material goods they steal – and when you see them sell their stolen goods, like handbags, on the beach, you see that it’s really about the money in the end.
What remains is a typically Coppola-esque mode of observation that you have to be willing to enjoy. Do accept that her film is not a behind-the-scenes peek into a glamorous court case whose teenage criminals are almost as appealing to the public as the celebrities they admire. Instead, we are often in semi-documentary film mode witnessing the coming-of-age of a group of youngsters who appear to have it all but seem fearless and shameless enough to get even more. When Hollywood is only a freeway away, you can meet the real people in the right clubs, you can touch and take away the things you’ve seen the stars wear in magazines, and you quickly go from booze to cocaine while driving around in your car – or a car you’ve just stolen.
The Bling Ring is another one of Coppola’s great testaments on that great mystery called youth. After Somewhere, she digs even deeper into the meaninglessness of Hollywood life and takes us on a cool ride with a few greedy kids for whom the easily accessible houses of the famous are the playgrounds and amusement parks of the 21st century. The breaking and entering is depicted without a moral undertone, and at one point it dawned on me that these kids’ desires might not be that different from the desires I had growing up, minus the bling, minus California, and minus the internet.
But sure, if I had lived close to Julia Roberts’ house when I was a teen, maybe I would have taken a few friends to her villa and tried to break in there. Maybe the ultimate “piece of her” would have been a pair of Louboutins that I would have walked around in my home. So what I am trying to say is that maybe my friend was wrong after all, and this film is – despite all the bling – pretty substantial and, in its own way, very surprising.
The Bling Ring, USA 2013, 88 min.
director: Sofia Coppola, cinematography: Christopher Baluvelt, Harris Savides, actors: Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, languages: English, distribution: Tobis Film
Berlin screenings (original version):
with German subtitles: Hackesche Höfe, Rollberg Kinos, Odeon, International
without German subtitles (also, don’t support the multiplexes): CineStar Potsdamer Platz