Friday, June 28, 2013

The Bling Ring

THE BLING RING: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, directed by Sofia Coppola (90 min.)

Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring is a fascinating film about a whole lot of disgusting human beings, which is the biggest challenge facing the movie.  There is not one single admirable character, not one person to identify with unless you are a vapid and soulless teenager, and the picture coasts through the Bret Easton Ellis type landscape of empty-headed Los Angeles apathy.  If it weren't a true story, or based on actual events, it would be impossible to believe on a number of levels.  I was often annoyed with The Bling Ring, disgusted watching these awful, awful people.  But I realized that was the entire point.

Based on a series of LA celebrity burglaries back in the late 2000s, The Bling Ring tells the lurid tale of bored and listless teens whose only goal in their pathetic lives is to be like the professional celebrities who litter the tabloid magazines.  They decide the best way to do this - or the easiest way - is to break into celeb homes while they are away and steal their clothes and jewelry and cash because, to be honest, they aren't going to miss it anyway.  They find out which stars are out of town via the internet, places like TMZ, where the every move of talentless spoiled celebrities is scrutinized and reported in real time.  So there is the conundrum at the heart of the picture; these loser kids are stealing and breaking into homes, but these people, famous for being worthless more than anything, don't lock their homes and don't care for the piles and piles of material goods inside because, well, they'll just get more.  Whatever is missing will go unnoticed.

While there are five members of this disassociated group of shallow teens, the early portions of The Bling Ring focus on Marc, the new kid in school played by Israel Broussard, and his friendship with Rebecca (Katie Chang), easily the most monstrous of the crew.  Rebecca is dead behind the eyes, soulless, and obsessed with people like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan for no other reason than they are rich and they have a lot of "stuff."  Rebecca will regularly break into unlocked cars and steal, and she eventually graduates to breaking into homes.  But the homes are unlocked to begin with, which speaks more to the emptiness of an LA society who don't value their own possessions enough to secure them.

One night, Marc finds out online that Paris Hilton is in Las Vegas for a party.  Rebecca has the bright idea to sneak into her house, and Marc goes along.  They bring their friends and loiter and steal and dance and smoke and party in Hilton's house, a disgusting house full of pillows and pictures of Paris herself.  After nine or ten trips to Hilton's house, they move on to other stars' homes.  They visit Rachel Bilson's home, Audrina Patridge, Orlando Bloom, and the mecca of them all, the home of Lindsay Lohan.  These crime sprees grow more and more brazen, these kids become less and less likable, and the drugs and partying get more and more out of hand.  And, of course, they spend the majority of their time in these homes and clubs taking sexy pictures of themselves, just so everyone else will know how cool they are in their soulless online lives.

Emma Watson plays Nicki, one of the friends in the group, and while she may not be the central character in the film - that title belongs to Broussard's Marc in my opinion - she is easily the most infuriating and hypnotically idiotic of the entire group.  Nicki's mother (Leslie Mann) is an idiot, pure and simple, who home schools Nicki and her sisters.  But she doesn't really teach anything important, not that these girls would care about anything that they couldn't find in Us Weekly.  Once these kids get busted, it is Nicki who takes her story to Vanity Fair in the hopes of getting famous.  Just listening to Nicki speak to reporters and newsmen is so absurd and so disgusting it's amazing we have made it this far as a society.

Which brings me back around to my initial stance on The Bling Ring.  Here is a film that is grating, annoying, and irritating, but fascinating and impossible to turn away from.  Coppola knows the story she wants to tell,charm be damned.  None of the actors in the picture are compassionate or sympathetic about any of their actions, and Coppola never tries to soften the blow.  She has a strict goal to show where America's youth is headed in this age of celebrity obsession and absentee parenthood.  Her message is loud and clear, and while the film may be tough to stomach overall, perhaps it will make a teenage girl get off her phone at the dinner table and have a conversation with her family.