Monday, August 5, 2013

Film Review: Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring

Sofia Coppola has made a career out of taking misunderstood young women, and making us feel both compassion for them and revulsion for what happens to them.  From Kirsten Dunst and her fateful sisters in The Virgin Suicides, to Scarlet Johansson's lost soul in Lost in Translation, to Dunst again, as the infamously oblivious Marie Antoinette, to lonely woman-child Elle Fanning, making her way through her empty, and most likely autobiographical life in Somewhere, Coppola's women have always been wandering girls, lost in a world that they do not understand, and which does not understand them.  Perhaps it is a bit harder to find any compassion for the jaded, seemingly amoral wannabe jet setters in the director's latest, The Bling Ring, but in a way these young women (and one gay man, if we are keeping count of the main protagonists-cum-antagonists), no matter how unlikable they may very well be, and they are all quite unlikable, are just as lost as any of Coppola's previous female doppelgangers.

Coppola's fifth feature is based on the oh so true tale of a group of L.A. teens and early twentysomethings who would burglarize celebrity homes throughout the Hollywood Hills in 2008 and 2009, just so they could dress and accessorize the way their Reality TV heroines like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, and Rachel Bilson, among many others, dressed and accessorized.  Coppola digs into the whole idea of post-millennial celebrity culture (and I use the term culture quite loosely) , and the vapid, TMZ-watching, celeb-obsessed youth culture (again, a quite loose use of the term culture) that has grown up around it.  These are young men and women who have no real use for knowledge or intelligence, no use for morals or integrity, absolutely no use, or probably even understanding of common sense.  All they know or care about is celebrity and the banal idiocy of reality television.  The real Bling Ring (the names have been changed for the film, but each character is still based upon real-life counterparts), after their respective arrests, have become just what they have always wanted, reality celebrities.  Granted, celebrities of less than c-class, but still, celebrities of a strange new world of media culture.

The film stars a slew of relative unknowns, headed by Harry Potter alum, Emma Watson (she is not the lead, but certainly the biggest name involved, and thanks to her small role in This is the End, spends her entire cinematic year, running around the Hollywood Hills, evading capture), and Coppola brings her usual flare for melancholy angst, and it all comes together to become what, granted may be the director's least fully formed film, but in a way, perfectly suited for its own subject matter.  We may look upon the young morally-adjustable individuals in this film as mere trash or idiots or losers, or what-have-you, but really these are just children raised in a modern media-heavy society, where emphasis is placed on the shallow idea of what we consider celebrity in this day and age.  No, I cannot imagine a similar group of wannabes performing these acts back in the days of Gable and Lombard, or Monroe and Brando, or even during the hey-day of "newcomers" such as De Niro and Pacino, and so one may be led to think that it may very well be a cause of the celebrity culture of today's modern world.  I am not lily-livered enough to believe that everything can be blamed on society (for, one must take blame and/or credit for their own lives), but one has no choice but to see how warped today's youth has become because of this celebrity culture, and Coppola shows that warped sensibility in The Bling Ring, and does it damn well.

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