Sofia Coppola’s newest film falls into the same trap as so many other “based on real-life events” films. The audience knows exactly what is going to happen. This is not so bad in films like Argo where the joy of the story is not in the factual outcome of the story but rather how it happened. The Bling Ring, however, does not have this. From the first ten minutes of film you have the whole plot. Spoilers: they steal things, they get caught, they get locked up.
The problem is that the film appears to be trying to achieve more. It is unclear what deep message is meant to be conveyed in this 90 minutes but I’m pretty sure there is one. Perhaps she was aiming for a sensitive character portrait, but since the film seems to switch between three central characters it’s hard to tell. Is the main focus meant to be Marc (Israel Broussard) , our sporadic narrator’s, hinted-at but largely ignored homosexual streak and platonic love for a criminal? Or is it rather Rebecca (Katie Chang), the lonely daughter of a broken home desperately living vicariously through her celebrity idols? While her obsession is certainly disturbing, her motives are never satisfactorily revealed or explained and she remains a one-dimensional mercenary social climber. However the film could as easily be seen as a study of Nicki (Emma Watson) who is even more mercenary, turning her aspirational crimes to her advantage and making herself into a Z-list celebrity in her own right. It feels as if the film could have been edited to be a study on any one of these three, however the bizarre decision was made to not actually investigate any and leave the interesting character arcs on the cutting room floor. I guess that did leave more room for slo-mo footage of coke-fueled parties.
Unfortunately the cinematography is not varied enough to make the repetitive story entirely engaging. It achieves amusing, entertaining, but after the fourth scene of teenagers going “OH MY GOD” at what X or Y celebrity has in their underwear drawer you start to wonder what you are doing with your life. Although, credit where it is due: one of the robberies is beautifully filmed in a single wide angle shot showing the glass-sided house being illuminated and the two young robbers treating it as their own. It’s a bold and impressive style statement which is sadly never followed up.
Perhaps what this film has achieved is a dark parody on modern culture. These young people document ever moment of their lives, no party is complete without a picture and a Facebook post. Their experiences are not precious to them as moments of happiness but as possessions, quantifiable things that have “cool” value to be bragged about. One of the characters even points out that America has an obsession with a Bonnie and Clyde archetype. I feel that, accidentally, this film turns back on the audience with venom. In its very dullness, the shallow and vapid shots of people taking pictures of themselves you wonder why you are giving the validation, why you too were lured into the Bonnie and Clyde phenomenon. The film is a combination of hedonism and voyeurism and the audience condones this by their presence. There is nothing in the artistry of the film that takes a stand against this society, it’s up to the viewers to simply refuse to view, to refuse to let celebrity culture and over-documentation suffocate true art and ideas. Huxley had a point, don’t let his dystopia come true.