The Bling Ring (A24, R)

blingring 75The members of the Ring mostly seem to idolize the people they victimize, and do so among other things in order to feel closer to them.

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There are several good reasons to be excited for The Bling Ring. Of course, a big one is that it’s directed by Sofia Coppola, one of our best young directors who has never been quite as prolific as I’d like her to be, which makes each movie of hers something of an event. Second is that it stars Emma Watson, who has the ball rolling on a good career, what with good performances in My Week With Marilyn, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and the recent This Is the End. Finally, the premise sounds like the makings for a good movie: The Bling Ring is based on the true story of a group of teenagers who successfully robbed a series of celebrities’ houses, without much effort and with a fair amount of success.

As it sounds, The Bling Ring does wind up being a successful film overall (it would have been hard for it to not be, under the circumstances). At the same time, though, it feels slighter than one might expect, which leads to an aftertaste of it being something of a missed opportunity.  Sadly, one of the most immediately noticeable problems with the film is the casting of Watson, which going in seemed to be a plus; the issue isn’t in Watson’s performance, which is perfectly fine, but in that The Bling Ring is set in the real world, and the people that the Ring robs are real celebrities. We see images of the actual victims of the Bling Ring, such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge, etc., so it’s jarring to have as recognizable a face in the cast as Watson; it seems like she would have fit in better as a victim than as a robber. (It’s worth noting that Hilton, Lohan, et al., don’t appear in the films and play themselves or anything; it’s more that Coppola uses their real images in newsreel footage and the like.) 

This becomes especially glaring when she’s likely to be the only person in the cast you recognize. The ringleader, Rebecca, is played by Katie Chang, and her most reliable partner-in-crime is a slightly effeminate and totally likeable boy named by Marc, played by Israel Broussard. Both of them are relatively unknown, especially when compared to Hermione from Harry Potter, which is of course one of the highest-grossing franchises in cinema history. Watson plays Nicki, who tags along with Rebecca and Marc sometimes, as does her live-in friend, Sam (Taissa Farmiga, Vera’s much younger sister), and a rotating group of others. Outside of Watson, the person you’re most likely to recognize is Leslie Mann, who here plays Nicki’s mom, Laurie.

But I don’t mean to dwell on the negatives, as there are a lot of positives in play here. It’s amusing to see how these young criminals execute their break-ins, which stay pretty close to how they were done in real life: They learn on the internet if the celebrity is at an event out of town, Google their address, and check to see if they left any doors or windows unlocked or left a key in any obvious spots (or, in one memorable instance, have a smaller member of the group go in through the dog door and unlock the door once inside). Then, when they’re inside, they steal enough stuff to sate their need for designer clothes, jewelry, and accessories. They also steal any money they can get their hands on, but don’t actually take enough of anything for it to be immediately noticeable that anyone was in there.

From a filmmaking angle, Coppola here extends the faux-documentary thing she started way back in her first feature, 1999’s The Virgin Suicides, and she’s still great with music. Here, she most memorably uses modern rap tracks with lyrics focused on materialism, with one exception: an ominous sequence cut to the old Can track “Halleluwah.”

One side effect of the proceedings is that while I’m betting most of the film’s audience will seriously dislike the celebrities from whom these kids rob, as they for the most part are the utter dregs of modern celebrity culture, it’s kind of hard not to feel sorry for said celebrities under the circumstances. For one thing, most of us have an almost visceral reaction to any kind of home invasion. Second, the members of the Ring mostly seem to idolize the people they victimize, and do so among other things in order to feel closer to them. So, if you’re looking for someone crappier than these celebrities you hate, you don’t need to look further than these moral handicaps, who turn to crime because they want to be more like these insufferable pieces of shit. | Pete Timmermann

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