In the months between October 2008 and August 2009, a gang of several fame-obsessed teenagers and young adults broke into and burgled the homes of various celebrities in the Hollywood Hills, most notably Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Their victims were chosen due to them being considered fashion icons by the group, as can be seen when Rebecca, the ringleader, refers to their crimes as “going shopping” with a blatant disregard for others… and the definitions of words. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, what began as a “twisted adventure” fuelled by celebrity worship “quickly mushroomed into an organised criminal enterprise.”
Sofia Coppola’s follow-up to 2010’s middling Somewhere is very much a film of surfaces. Skin-deep beauty is put centre-stage in a picture that happily skims across the surface. This is a look at the eponymous group, not a look in. While this is not necessarily to its disadvantage, it does seem to lose a level of poignancy that is present in her 2003 magnum opus, Lost in Translation.
Coppola has a clear eye for visuals, and, as would be expected for a film where fashion is a major talking point throughout, The Bling Ring is an exceptionally stylish and attractive film in terms of aesthetics. However, this also can be interpreted as a façade. While some may see the look of the film as being empty and superficial, I see it as paralleling the characters; their vacuous nature is reflected on the screen. Each shot is both clean and garish at the same time – this is perhaps a rather accurate visual representation of the fake beauty on display in the Ring’s native Hollywood. The superb soundtrack also furthers this. Loud, bold and blunt, the likes of Azealia Banks and M.I.A. blare out, whilst the aggressive distorted guitars of Sleigh Bells’ amazing ‘Crown on the Ground’ are perfect over the opening credits.
The accusations of shallowness form the basis of my reply to perhaps the most-repeated criticism of the film, that it perpetuates the vapid morality shown by its subjects. I believe that Coppola transcends obvious personal commentary and satirises through depiction: the story is presented in a deliberately naked and hollow fashion and this means that any flaws the group possesses – and, of course, there are many – are fully on display.
This representation allows the audience to come to its own conclusions. Coppola deliberately refuses to pass judgement, which sometimes plays to its favour but also makes the film feel a little unscratched at times. There were moments when I wished it delved just that extra bit deeper, where, instead of floating across the surface, it was able to stop and sink below. For the most part though, Coppola lets the characters’ actions speak for themselves, which may sound safe, but, for such a morally complex film, is surprisingly ambitious.
Additionally, if there are any moments that cause outrage or repulsion, they lie with the characters and not the film itself. Coppola is seemingly aware of the actions she is undertaking to create the manner in which these characters behave in a physical sense and in terms of producing a reaction. This greatly relies on the performances, which are generally good, but it’s Emma Watson who carries the bunch. Her rendition of the teenage girl who likes to think she knows more than she does but is hopelessly naïve at heart (“I want to lead a country one day for all I know”) is brilliantly precise, not to mention very funny. Watson has clearly pushed herself post-Harry Potter and has begun an interesting and defined path. Riding on the back of her excellent portrayal of a troubled free spirit in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Bling Ring continues her impressive self-renovation.
A brash, entertaining and bitingly satirical portrayal of celebrity obsession taken to the extreme, The Bling Ring feels timely for today’s society. An occasional dreamlike tone, however, means it’s never quite firmly rooted in reality. But it is never less than fascinating.