Sunday, September 29, 2013

Living In A Material World

Year: 2013
Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

According to the publicity surrounding the film, The Bling Ring is about Hermione Granger wearing clothes, but don't be deceived. It's actually the mostly true story of a group of Calabasas teens who, in 2008 and 2009, robbed a multitude of celebrity homes by using the internet to see when they'd be out of town. Their targets were mostly their personal fashion icons - Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, and Lindsay Lohan.

The film's (more-or-less) protagonist is Marc (Israel Broussard), a newcomer to Indian Hills High School who is taken in by resident Queen Bee Rebecca (Katie Chang). She quickly enlists him and her friends in a series of petty thefts at parties that quickly escalates into breaking into the homes of classmates who are out of town and then to celebrity residences. The rest is mostly montages of him and the girls dressing up in designer outfits, taking selfies, selling stolen Rolexes on the black market, going shopping, and getting wasted in clubs.

Sofia Coppola has built a career on depicting the travails of the idle rich and The Bling Ring is perhaps her best foray into a world of pure material. Her depictions of the shallow fascinations and obsessions of these well-to-do teen delinquents remains sympathetic to her characters while simultaneously cutting them to the bone.

Paris Hilton's home cameos as itself and no film in history has ever seen such a relentlessly gaudy setpiece. The consumerism porn and glittery excesses of the rest of the film can barely hold a candle to this true life representation of the superfluously wealthy.

You just know she's absolutely not in on the joke.

It's sickening, to say the least, and the characters' utter joy at being able to touch and own such fabulous  garments is comedy and tragedy rolled into one enormous ball of superficiality. Theirs is a world of no consequences, and the fact that the movie lets them off a little too easy only drives the point home even more, because that's exactly how the world treated them.

Full of cutaways to TMZ, paparazzi shots, and self-indulgent Facebook posts about partying and Berkin bags, The Bling Ring shows a snapshot of the scary depths to which the Me Generation can sink. These poor shallow souls see themselves as blameless (frequently shifting the blame to one another, social psychology, and even The Secret), and the absolutely dreadful truth is that they are. These thefts are perpetrated by people who don't need the money on people who don't need it either.

This is a world where a plot point like getting into a car accident is given less screentime than Marc dropping it low in his bedroom. This is a world where robbing multiple homes earns you a fan page on Facebook. It's just one subset of the world at large, but the big problem is that this is the world we live in.

This outfit would make even Carrie Bradshaw cringe.

The Bling Ring presents this world to us in uncompromising detail and without a doubt it works. Unfortunately the insightful commentary on society is resting atop what amounts to a 90 minute Nordstrom catalogue. By the time the gang robs their fifth house or so, the narrative has completely run out of steam and spending time with these vapid, unchanging Barbie dolls becomes a less and less rewarding experience.

Saying that a movie of such a compact stature is 10 to 20 minutes too long is probably a bit fussy, but The Bling Ring would perhaps be an easier pill to swallow if it was a bit more like the lifestyle of its characters - pretty, fast, and simple.

Kind of like this review. Don't say I don't take my own advice.

TL;DR: The Bling Ring is a probing character study of the idle rich that suffers a bit from the same superficiality it seeks to detract.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 678

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