Confession: going into "The Bling Ring," I was hopeful that I’d find the Sofia Coppola of "Marie Antoinette" rather than the Sofia Coppola of "Somewhere" parked behind the camera. Surely, a true-life Hollywood tale as fundamentally ludicrous as fame-and-celebrity-obsessed hipster teens targeting freebie-laden homes of the rich and famous cried out for the leering (but not sneering) pop-art approach Coppola brought to her portrait of the pampered French queen, rather than the deadpan, going-round-in-circles approach she applied to her tale of an alienated movie star.
The fact that it is indeed the latter is disappointing, although judging from recent interviews it appears Coppola’s thorny "Marie Antoinette" experience (some boos at Cannes, etc) left her depleted, so she’s all about small and simple now. But any director who counts "The Queen Of Versailles" as one of their recent favorites surely knows what an audience would crave with a film like "The Bling Ring," and there are glimpses of what could/should have been: in the satirical approach to social media interface; in a beautifully-framed nighttime shot, held from a distance, of two of the gang splitting up to plunder one celeb’s glass house; of the warped family that perhaps should have consumed more of Coppola’s attention – Leslie Mann as a skinny, mantra-obsessed mother and Emma Watson and Taissa Farmiga as her biological and pseudo-adopted daughters (“Girls, time for your Adderall!”), all based on the stars of an actual E! reality show called "Pretty Wild."
But there’s a numbing, unfulfilling repetitiveness to Coppola’s depiction of this mostly privileged gang’s label-hungry thieving. Despite the odd giggle, "The Bling Ring" doesn’t particularly engage or illuminate, nor does it adequately unravel its kooky line-up. We’re more than happy to embrace the notion that the ring’s vacuity – and thus the vacuity of celebrity culture in general – is a self-fulfilling prophecy of aimless amorality. But Coppola, who prefers to work from bare-bones scripts which allow her actors to fill in the blanks of their own characters, was faced with a tricky challenge working with a cast who, apart from Watson and Mann, are largely inexperienced.
Watson, even with her broadly generic American accent, fares best; she certainly milks her character, Nicki, for as many laughs as possible, and even nails quite a few. Farmiga shows promise but isn’t given enough to do. As the gang’s ringleader, though, Katie Chang leaves a vacuum that I’m guessing Coppola wasn’t expecting from the way she’s cut her film together. Or perhaps she simply never got a full grasp on what she wanted to say about this venal, vapid posse. What we’re left with is a bit flat and dull, whereas the Vanity Fair article which inspired it, the real court case and the whole trashy nuttiness behind ransacking the unguarded mansions of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Megan Fox promised so much more than lifestyles of the bored and tiresome.
Not a failure by any stretch, but Coppola should have been in her wheelhouse with this one so it’s a shame not to see her firing on more cylinders.