(This review was originally written in an attempt to write thirty movie reviews in thirty days. This particular review was written on 6/29/13, which was a very pivotal time in my life. I was about to leave Kansas City for a foreign destination, and I was living above a bar — staying sober — and attempting to write again after a lengthy hiatus. I think that I actually only was able to complete six out of thirty film views and reviews. This was my favorite movie of the bunch.)
The Bling Ring (Written and Directed by Sophia Coppola)
Sophia Coppola comes from a strong lineage of filmmakers with the obviously top choice being her dad. Without Francis Ford Coppola’s contributions in the 70s, the family may not have quite as bit of a filmography, both in directing and acting, as they do right now. The Godfather, parts I and II, are synonymous with the start of the contemporary “gangster film” that has not really gone away, but has withered in power and diverted its storytelling to the wannabes that really aren’t that interesting nor as true to their code, which is hard to define as a code because it really isn’t about anything except image, as organized code may have been at one time. The importance of these two films to current cinema is far beyond even my definition, but they need to be recognized as major achievements in a decade that really has yet to be surpassed in the past half century of filmmaking. Not only did they present their viewing audiences with the look and feel of power, corruption, and family, the Godfather films of the 70s presented Hollywood with a template from which many other films of the genre, with exception to Goodfellas, only attempt to recreate, yet tend to fail miserably at presenting these days. Coppola was able to visually present a story so rich in history and familial bonds that it is still being referenced and alluded to forty years after its initial release. The only downfall to the series, and it still stands far above many films that may have been released around the same time in the early 90s, was Godfather III. One of the main reasons why the third film is frequently left off the discussions of the Coppola patriarch’s work is due to the fact that he really hadn’t made a whole bunch of anything that great outside of the decade that made him who he was; the other reason may have to do with the person who gave us The Bling Ring.
Sophia Coppola was first presented to the filmgoing public in her father’s third installment of the famed Godfather trilogy, and she was one of the worst additions to the cast. Fortunately, her forte was not acting. The girl who was ripped to shreds by many critics of the film eventually moved beyond her criticism to become one of the more intriguing Hollywood produced directors of the past 15 (or so) years. When she came on the somewhat mainstream scene with her debut feature, The Virgin Suicides (based on a book by Jeffrey Eugenides), the impact was felt immediately. However, the true pinnacle of her current career, up to this point, came in the form of a multi-Oscar nominated film called Lost in Translation. Since I have not seen Marie Antoinette, and only part of Somewhere, the film that preceded her current subtle satire, I cannot comment on my feelings towards these films with exception to saying that neither one of them really have piqued my interest enough to give a full viewing. However, I can say that The Bling Ring is another step in the right direction towards a, hopefully lengthy and unique, film career.
This is “based on real events,” which means that some of this material may be exaggerated, but I feel that the events that are the true basis of the story from Vanity Fair about this band of entitled teens are probably fairly accurate. The things that these characters do are anything but admirable, yet it is hard not to enjoy watching them ransack the houses of “stars,” such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, because those two wenches really don’t deserve the spotlight that they stand in, and seem to take for granted their own privacy by even leaving their properties that easily exposed to these amateurs in the first place. Fortunately, these specific events that are presented as the main focus of the film, and the things that will draw more of the general public to this film than anything else, are not the reasons why I feel this film works so well, and may be one of the best films that I have seen so far this year at the theater. Two things really make this film work: the cinematography and the eye-rolling humor that Coppola presents so seriously in this film. It kind of reminds me of, albeit not as overtly satiric as, Gus Van Zant’s film, To Die For. There is that sense of stupidity that comes at the expense of the general public for being so enthralled with things like TMZ and, back then, magazines, such as People or Us Weekly, that To Die For presented back in the 90s.
Emma Watson is the main “familiar face” that audiences will recognize due to her deserved fame from the Harry Potter films. Watson is her generation’s Natalie Portman: a young, talented actress that has seemingly weathered the childhood star storm and make her way on to adult stardom. She plays Nicki, a shallow, Angelina Jolie “save the world” wannabe, who seems to enjoy all the risks of breaking into pseudo star’s houses, stealing their possessions, then immediately giving up everyone involved in order to jump on her “5 minutes of fame” as a result of her convictions. Watson plays the role of entitled bitch so well, and shows why a pretty face and the ability to say the “right things” to a general public so stupid to realize how fake she is really works these days. I think that it is also funny that the girl that she is portraying is about as impactful to her so called causes and as memorable as the nominees (with exception to the few that truly deserved to win but didn’t because they probably didn’t kiss enough Academy ass – see Joaquin Phoenix from the 2013 Oscars) that didn’t win Oscars each year. Her speeches are canned, superficial, and, when asked by the Vanity Fair journalist who wrote the article that this film is based upon, what her siblings are doing and where they are located, she really had no clue.
Leslie Mann also sticks out as the clueless Beverly Hills mom who definitely had a part in enabling her “daughters” to do bad things by just being oblivious to the world around her. Mann’s character, Laurie, is also the “save the world” type; she home schools her kids (I guess) by using celebrity examples of fashion and goodwill through magazine cutout collages and shallow discussions of impacts these people have on the world. Her goal is the make her girls just like “Angelina Jolie,” by basing her serious “cause” work on how famous these people are and by referring to her “religious / moral lessons” on the self-help (?) book, The Secret. Mann probably gives the strongest performance of her career, or at least of the few that I have seen her in, up to this point.
The supporting cast is hit and miss with me. The central character, Rebecca, played by Katie Chang, comes across as stoic, which also can be misconstrued as horrible acting. I assume that her character may really be emotionally detached due to unsupervised, spoiled upbringing, which makes the premise of her character kind of scary, but comes across to the audience as poor acting. Her “best friend,” Marc is one of those outsider types who was just sent to school, and placed in Rebecca’s life, out of convenience for the story. Although he came across as a strong central character early on in the film, his character loses flair after awhile
Sophia Coppola used Harris Savides, a great cinematographer who worked frequently with David Fincher and Gus Van Zandt, as her cinematographer, and this seems to be her strong suit throughout the majority of the film. Although the story is very intriguing, it is the camera work and staging of certain shots (see the long shot of a glass house where Rebecca and Marc are rummaging through a house as the camera zooms extremely slowly into the house) that makes this film so fun to watch. Savides died in October of 2012, which is too bad because he really showed a great eye behind camera to help show how unglamorous and patronizing these kind of crimes can be.
Overall, I really enjoyed the film. I would not say, at least at this point in the year, if this will win a bunch of awards, but I can say that it is better than a lot of junk I have seen in the past 2 years. I think that Sophia Coppola does have a knack for camera work and storytelling.