Inspired by a Vanity Fair article, The Bling Ring invites audiences into the world of the teenage burglars who went to extreme lengths to emulate their rich and famous idols. The film is entertaining enough, but it raises a question: does director Sophia Coppola fail to adequately address key questions surrounding the concept of celebrity culture?
The Bling Ring lit up the big screen at this year’s Cannes film festival with its take on the improbable tale of high-school troublemakers who break into the Hollywood mansions of celebrities such as Audrina Partridge, Megan Fox, Rachel Bilson and, most notably, Paris Hilton. With the trailer blasting Azealia Banks’ hit ‘212’ while Emma Watson stroppily declares, “I wanna rob” in her most obnoxious American accent to date, Coppola’s interpretation of events certainly had the potential to offer an upbeat yet satirical take on the story of teenage rebellion. Yet the film adaptation of these drug-fuelled celebrity burglaries never quite conveys the glamour that it might have, suggesting that The Bling Ring itself is too far immersed in celebrity culture to present a more objective critique.
The film narrative quickly becomes repetitive – another celebrity, another house, but essentially the same sequence of events, all orchestrated by an increasingly irritating group of brat-ish students. New kid in town Marc Hall (Israel Broussard) appears to be the only one of the gang for whom there is more than a purely materialistic motivation and, as he shuffles often nervously after bling ringleader Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang), he becomes the only character towards which our sympathies might edge.
Often noted for her distinctively rich visual style (The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette), the DVD extra which delves into the making of The Bling Ring explains that, for the first time, Coppola was striving to achieve a look which was intentionally ‘bland’. Emma Watson, too, stresses that the director, who grew up surrounded by a great deal of fame and celebrity herself, was striving to achieve authenticity with this feature, forgoing her usual sense of style. The result is a film which is not only relatively devoid of Coppola’s keen aesthetic awareness, but one which prompts ironic visual comparisons with US TV dramas series such as The O.C. or The Hills. While this may be an intentional move, fans of her look will feel something is missing and if this is satire, it is so subtle that it’s barely perceptible.
Similarly, with the release of the DVD, the dialogue is already beginning to seem outdated, and squeals of, “This is so sick!” and “She’s so cray” will have teenagers squirming on their sofas. Certainly these privileged kids from Californian suburbia bring a sense of ridiculous naivety to crimes which may usually appear more threatening, yet the film never fully explores the comedic potential of the characters or the situation. Leslie Mann, who plays the only mother in a film of devoid parents, is also the singular source of comedy. Other moments which hint at humour during the trailer remain curiously flat within the feature as a whole.
That said, Coppola neatly evades long and drawn out courtroom scenes which can often appear clichéd, and thankfully avoids blatant moralisation, for which the potential is certainly there. She also succeeds in capturing online culture on camera, with a flurry of Facebook posts and selfie shots that confidently portrays a world which some directors still struggle to represent. However, the film hinges too heavily on the ‘true story’ factor, with a DVD extra titled ‘Behind the Real Bling Ring’ proving to be a more intriguing watch than Coppola’s dramatisation, and hinting that perhaps there is a more engaging film to be made from this story yet.
The Bling Ring is released on DVD on 28th October 2013.