Review: The Bling Ring


The generation raised in the boom of the Internet should be dubbed Generation Me. By fawning over celebrity materialism and obsessively documenting one’s entire life through social media, the narcissism typical of adolescence has skyrocketed to stratospheric heights. If an epicenter of today’s media driven, self-centered culture exists, it may very well be in Los Angeles, where every other person is gunning for more than just their fifteen minutes. In 2008, a group of teenagers burglarized the homes of several celebrities, and ended up garnering over $2 million in property. Named for the group’s title, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring may not have any new insights into its subject matter, but is nevertheless remarkable in its offhanded portrayal of the excesses of modern times.

The Bling Ring makes clear its stylistic and narrative decisions from the very first shot, security camera footage of teenagers climbing awkwardly over a tall fence. Then, shot from behind, they slink their way into the house, as Rebecca (Katie Chang), the group’s infallible leader proclaims, “Let’s go shopping.” The story is told in a series of extended flashbacks, as the characters reflect in interviews on their mistakes. The Bling Ring is very much an ensemble film, in which the personalities of all five kids feel purposefully indistinguishable. If there is a central character, its the baby faced Marc (Israel Broussard), the only male of the crew. Marc is the new kid in high school and naturally self conscious, but he quickly buds a friendship with Rebecca, whom he discovers has a vice for looting houses of out of town locals. Marc is tentative, but eventually warms to the nocturnal pursuits, and befriends Rebecca’s other cohorts, Chloe (Claire Julien), Nicki (Emma Watson), and Sam (Taissa Farmiga). At the peak of their adolescence, they all obsess over their favorite celebrities and their material wealth, giving them reason to escalate their midnight raids. Sparked by slipping into Paris Hilton’s home, Rebecca and Mark convince the entire group to get in on the act. A feeling of invincibility pervades, but when the group’s antics make the nightly news, a downward spiral inevitably begins.

What is instantly noticeable with The Bling Ring is its refusal to pass judgment on its characters. Their nightly burglaries are certainly criminal, but the film portrays them with a sense of formal documentation. Each raid is shot differently, but never without the element of danger. From open, breathing compositions, to manic handheld, and even one long, zooming wide shot, the late cinematographer Harris Savides shoots each scene with a differing sense of danger. The entire ensemble here is well cast, made up almost entirely of unknowns, save for Emma Watson, who continues her post Harry Potter career with fresh choices. Her Nicki is very much the epitome of self-obsession, and in what could easily have been a one-note role, Watson gradually shades her with underlying layers, and her final scene is brilliant in giving her arc clarity.

Despite its strong visuals and performances, there is a feeling of emptiness about The Bling Ring. One can infer that given the subject matter, the lack of soul is largely the point. Furthermore, Coppola has never been a touchy-feely filmmaker, so the laissez-faire approach makes sense given her previous tendencies. The film’s examination of these teens is certainly previous mined ground, as their personalities are essentially as manufactured as their idolized footwear. Coppola remains smart about presenting them as they are, simply as a group of individuals caught in the melee of finding self worth, be it material or otherwise. The Bling Ring may not have anything especially new to say about adolescence in the 21st century, but with Coppola’s formal, near documentary approach and impressive young ensemble, it remains a lingering snapshot of today’s youth pushed to their egotistic limits.


~ by romancinema on July 7, 2013.

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