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Cannes Review: Sofia Coppola's 'The Bling Ring' A Mostly Empty Exercise In Excess

Reviews
by Kevin Jagernauth
May 16, 2013 8:59 AM
16 Comments
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American cinema seems preoccupied with the emptiness of excess, at least in the first half of 2013. Baz Luhrmann luxuriates in the meaningless wealth of "The Great Gatsby," while Harmony Korine put his own twisted spin on the dark soul of the American dream in "Spring Breakers." And now comes Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring," another look at the at-any-cost pursuit of celebrity and the worship of brand names, but it doesn't bring anything new to a conversation that seems to have run out of things to say.

While the film makes pains to remind the viewer that it's "Based on true events," Coppola is less concerned with accurately capturing the ins and outs of the real-life gang than in simply recreating their criminal behavior. But unfortunately, the criminals themselves are little more than one-dimensional sketches. Katie Chang and Israel Broussard form the heart of the film as Rebecca and Mark, a duo of besties who bond at Indian Hills, a school known for taking on last chance kids who haven't adapted elsewhere. And before long, Rebecca shows Mark her game of "check cars," which is essentially walking down the street, seeing what cars left their doors open, and taking whatever is inside. It isn't long until this game extends to breaking into houses.

Coppola seems to be mostly fascinated with the break-ins themselves. The first half of "The Bling Ring" is a nearly endless string of scenes detailing what eventually seems to be every crime the Bling Ring committed, to the point of tedium. From looking up which celebrities are out of town on Dlisted, to finding their address (almost unbelievably easily) on the internet, to casually walking in and helping themselves to whatever they wanted, perhaps the point here is that the quest to be famous -- or even adjacent to fame -- is an insatiable appetite that will forever leave you unfulfilled. But, is this really something we never knew before? And how many scenes of closets being raided do you really need?

From knowing their Louboutins from Miu Miu, and partying with little regard to any consequences, Rebecca, Mark and the gang that assembles around them have your standard sob stories. Rebbecca's parents are divorced, Mark suffers from anxiety and self-loathing ("I never saw myself as an A-list looking guy," he later recalls), while Nicki (Emma Watson, having fun playing vapid in a supporting role that later strains to be a lead) is home-schooled by her "The Secret" obsessed mother (Leslie Mann), who hands out Adderall like vitamins. (There's also Chloe, played by an underutilized Clarie Julien, whose brief moments suggest an edge that "The Bling Ring" could have sorely benefited from.) 

But it's the picture's lack of focus that eventually diminishes whatever little "The Bling Ring" has to say. For the most part, the story is told through the eyes of Rebecca and Mark -- the latter proclaiming at one point that he loves Rebecca like a sister -- but as we move into the second half of the movie, it's Nicki who begins to take center stage. The shift is a bit out of left-field and leaves the relationship of Rebecca and Mark to conclude with little more than updated Facebook status (really). And we've spent so little time with Nicki in the first half of the movie that her admittedly hilarious interviews with the press don't provide much additional context other than again emphasizing the film's rather meager thematic goals.

While the ambitions of the movie might be quite low (and this may be Coppola's flimsiest movie to date), the filmmaker, who has always had a great visual eye, does find moments of beauty. A break-in sequence at Audrina Patridge's house places the camera in the hills with the entire glass home in view, as we watch Rebecca and Mark move through each room and floor of the house, from a distance. It's a haunting shot, and a scene that, even more than the rest of the robbery set-pieces, really captures the violation of privacy the Bling Ring brought upon their victims (whereas in the rest of the movie, their burglary is almost celebratory). And Coppola also has great fun in cutting an arrest montage, a sequence that brings a dose of reality to the rest of the movie which largely feels like a teenage fantasy.

The subject of celebrity is nothing new to Coppola who explored both its loneliness and luxuriance in "Somewhere" and "Marie Antoinette," and here those same preoccupations ricochet to less satisfying results. Coppola wants to chastise a tabloid culture where almost anybody can become an instant celebrity, regardless of their accomplishments (or misdeeds), but it's an easy target and when spun through a group of barely sketched characters, whose motivations are even thinner, it makes "The Bling Ring" a weightless experience, no matter how many hot tunes (the soundtrack is extensive and playlist ready) and gaudy baubles fill the screen. [C]

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16 Comments

  • jack | June 16, 2013 1:03 PMReply

    I guess I have a new favorite Kevin Jagernauth line: "the filmmaker, who has always had a great visual eye". WOW, this guy just cannot write to save his life. Seriously one of the least competent reviewers who pines to be taken seriously. Also, whoever is editing his work isn't helping.
    I didn't love this film, but this review is atrocious.

  • leslie | June 17, 2013 9:18 PM

    Haha. Harsh. I think he meant a great eye for visuals but I see your point.

  • leslie | June 17, 2013 9:17 PM

    Haha. Harsh. I think he meant a great eye for visuals but I see your point.

  • Excelz | June 16, 2013 4:42 PM

    Glad to know you are such a fanboy you are taking down notes of completely innocuous lines. At least you'll always be here reading.

  • jack | June 16, 2013 1:02 PMReply

    I guess I have a new favorite Kevin Jagernauth line: "the filmmaker, who has always had a great visual eye". WOW, this guy just cannot write to save his life. Seriously one of the least competent reviewers who pines to be taken seriously. Also, whoever is editing his work isn't helping.
    I didn't love this film, but this review is atrocious.

  • LFarah | May 21, 2013 4:00 AMReply

    "This is the reviewer who, unlike 99% of critics, gave A SEPARATION a negative review. He has no place reviewing movies."

    I second that.

  • Athena | May 17, 2013 12:40 PMReply

    @D: Amen!!.

  • Mohammed | May 17, 2013 3:25 AMReply

    This is the reviewer who, unlike 99% of critics, gave A SEPARATION a negative review. He has no place reviewing movies.

  • Sara | May 20, 2013 10:38 AM

    I don't usually like Coppola films, but I think that I will like this film.
    and after you said that... I did googled the review of Kevin and he called The Separation "Manipulative & Melodramatic 'A Separation' Is A Soap Opera Morality Tale". OMG.... it's soo incomprehensible that review... well... after that I don't think I will read anymore Kevin's reviews.

  • Mack Fraser | May 17, 2013 2:20 PM

    Film criticism isn't about being right or wrong and it's definitely not about consensus. It is about critically discussing film as and hopefully instigating conversation. Disenting opinion is what makes criticism interesting and vibrant instead of reducing it to a metacritc or rottentomatoes style number.

  • Jake | May 17, 2013 2:59 AMReply

    I have to ask how old is the reviewer of the Bling Ring? Clearly, Kevin Jagernauth, doesn't get it he is not the target audience for this film. Nobody is saying The Bling Ring is high art but I think Sophia Coppola should be commended for looking at the excess of pop culture and how it is affecting America's youth. These five kids believe by robbing from celebrities and stealing their stuff their lives have more meaning. I think the writer is ignoring the role of the media and the ways in which young people are influenced by this TMZ celebrity culture. Kids today do look up to idiots like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan instead of their parents.

  • Mack Fraser | May 17, 2013 2:31 PM

    Shouldn't a film work whether you are the target audience or not? I don't dislike Disney movies because I am not a small child. A good film is a good film.

    And really, the message of "media is bad and teaches us bad things" is a pretty bland and juvenile idea not to mention the fact that it is an overly simplistic view of how culture and individuals within them work. It's like listening to a high school metal band scream about being suppressed by "society." Obviously, Coppola probably has more to say than that (I haven't seen the film) but how you address an issue is probably more important than the issue itself. It is what differentiates between 'high art' and after school specials. Jagernauth's main criticism is that the film felt unfocused and repetitive with poorly drawn characters. Those are not problems that arise from 'not being the target audience.'

  • Adam Scott Thompson | May 16, 2013 1:27 PMReply

    Maybe they should have hired Sorkin to write the script.

  • PcChongor | May 17, 2013 8:59 PM

    Well, robbing celebrities DID eventually net themselves their own film, so maybe they weren't so vacuous after all...

  • D | May 16, 2013 7:34 PM

    Maybe this movie should not have been made. This is a waste of time that could have been used to teach our young generation of values worth pursuing in life. I think we have enough already of reality TV dealing with celebrities and material excesses that it is beyond comprehension why anyone would see this movie and why this was used for the opening day of Cannes which many considers more auteur than any film festivals.

  • j | May 16, 2013 9:41 AMReply

    Wait... Sofia Coppola has nothing to say?!

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