Genre: Crime, Drama
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga
Sofia Coppola is no stranger to telling stories of females trapped in privilege; from the Lisbon sisters in The Virgin Suicides to Cleo in Somewhere, it is a constant theme in her directorial filmography. However, The Bling Ring doesn’t have the personal or emotional edge that made the likes of Lost In Translation filmic gems, instead we get a much simpler look at the world of celeb-obsessed teens, who spend as much time living as they do telling people about it on Facebook.
The titular group of self-destructive yoots include ringleader & fashion obsessive Rebecca, celeb-obsessed Marc, and sisters Nicki & Emily who – along with best friend Sam – are trying to escape from the grasp of their New-Age mum. When Rebecca and Marc begin spending their evenings successfully breaking into Paris Hilton’s luxury mansion, they band together with the others to target the homes of out-of-town celebs and collecting high-priced designer ware as they go.
Tonally, The Bling Ring feels much closer to the lighter touch of Coppola’s Marie Antoinette than the effective darkness of The Virgin Suicides. As such, the film feels disappointingly futile; unable to build upon the foundations it lays down. Narratively some aspects work well, especially in its depiction of teens living life through the Internet. However, the robberies feel coldly ineffective; too flat to create tension and too callous to make the characters emotionally sympathetic.
It’s a shame the tone is so wrong, as the pitch-perfect performances brings this world of the modern teen vividly to life. Katie Chang and Emma Watson are the inarguable standouts with Chang injecting Rebecca with a subtle dominance that justifies her lead role in the group. Meanwhile Watson – complete with convincing accent and a rhetoric largely comprised of calling her friends “bitches” – comes in to her own during the films fast moving final act. Nicki is such an unlikeable character but you can’t help but be swept up by her unsinkable determination; “I might want to lead a country some day, for all I know” she tells the waiting reporters after she’s convicted, that you could almost believe her is a testament to Watson’s brilliant handling of the performance.
Sadly, it is Coppola herself that is the films biggest disappointment; her direction doesn’t feel as assured and her script is frustratingly clunky at times. The repetitive robbery scenes cause the film to become languorous for long stretches, and there are numerous moments when the script fails to nail the dramatic effectiveness of the situation.
There’s no denying how great it looks though; Coppola dedicates the film to cinematographer Harris Savides, who sadly died while the film was in production, and his genius eye can be seen throughout The Bling Ring. Particularly during the films standout scene; a single extreme long-shot of Marc and Rebecca breaking in to the house Audrina Partridge owns, capturing the heartlessness of the groups actions in a vastly more effective way than any of the times Coppola decides to plant us right in the heart of the action.
Held up by great performances, The Bling Ring isn’t what’s to be expected from a director as confident as Sofia Coppola. It’s by no means a waste of time, but more a wasted opportunity.