Sofia Coppola’s latest study of celebrity – does she do anything else – is about crimes committed by teens who watch too much E! TV. How much is too much? Apart for E! News, I can usually endure about five minutes before I’m all Kardashian’d out. ICE LOVES COCO? Do we need to know?
Coppola’s film is based on actual events which is a polite way of saying the names were changed to protect the guilty – or rather their parents and siblings, who don’t deserve to be tarnished with their mediocrity. I mean, God forbid that the perpetrators should achieve the fame of their victims, right? THE BLING RING is actually like E! TV without a voiceover track; it is clinically detached. You don’t laugh; you don’t share the kids’ feeling of perceived injustice (‘haven’t I got a right to these over-priced items too?’) You sit there aghast at the shallow pre-occupations of today’s privileged youth, the kind who would hold a bake sale to save the ozone layer.
Right from the off, Coppola kills any suspense. We see kids breaking in to a celebrity hideaway – a house that looks like the base of the Tracy family from THUNDERBIRDS; I kept expecting two rows of palm trees to abruptly part, or the swimming pool to retract. Then they get caught. This is a study of ‘why’. The main character is not Nicki, who is played by the only genuine celebrity in the ensemble (Emma Watson) but Rebecca (Katie Chang) an Asian-American who befriends a new boy, Marc (Israel Broussard) at their school. They both attend a seat of learning for misfit kids, which sounds like a line from Watson’s last film, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. Marc is a reluctant attendee, whose father works in the movie business (strictly crafts). Rebecca has a track record in substance abuse.
That is not her only crime. It becomes clear that she is a kleptomaniac, who cannot walk past a row of parked cars without trying the doors. (I’m not sure this is true of Rebecca’s real-life counterpart, Rachel Lee, but Rebecca is an opportunistic bored teenager who likes stylish clothes and luxury goods; Marc has aspirations in design.) Casual theft, seemingly victimless crimes – Rebecca is insulated from the complaints of her victims – becomes married with an interest in celebrities. Rebecca and Marc see Paris Hilton at a club. Then Marc reports that Paris is away for the weekend. Then Rebecca suggests, ‘why don’t we try her house?’ Marc performs the appropriate google search (this is more of an advertisement for the company than THE INTERNSHIP) and a house-breaking they go.
Interestingly, in the UK the film is rated 15 (only to be watched by viewers 15 and over) not because it shows impressionable crime likely to spawn copycat activity (don’t celebrities do locks?) but because of the drug use. Surely, crime committed by kids is just as bad. There is no accounting for the morality of film classifiers (maybe they like E! too).
The success of Rebecca and Marc’s first night at Paris’ draws repeat offences. They and their ‘blond-tourage’ break-in to the homes of other celebrities, including Rachel Bilson, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom, all of whom have deficient security systems.
The best scene is a continuous take filmed from a distance as Rebecca and Marc ‘do’ one house, the camera slowly zooming in as they make their way inside, take in the furnishings then root around. It put me in mind of Michael Snow’s seminal forty-minute slow-zoom simulated single-take movie, WAVELENGTH; it perfectly sums up the airless crime.
For the most part, we are unmoved, even by ‘comedy’ sequences in which Rebecca’s friend Nicki and her siblings are home-schooled by mom (Leslie Mann), who teaches them why Angelina Jolie is a good role model. (Forget maths and science, right?) One scene does have an edge, when one of the girls gets hold of a gun at Orlando Bloom’s house and waves it in Marc’s face. Both he and we get very nervous.
After one of victims reports a break-in, other celebrities follow suit. The kids get away with it for so long because the celebrities do not want the extra attention; they can contain the loss. Coppola never assumes the point of view of the celebrity victim to condemn the kids; the teens act out of low self-esteem, a deluded sense of achievement and no fear of punishment. It is as if infiltrating the lives of the privileged makes Rebecca and her friends feel privileged too. Without exception, they receive a rude awakening, though Rebecca is wise enough to skip town before the arrests begin.
Of the housebreakers, Nicki is treated the most leniently, not only because the police can tie her to only one of the break-ins (she was guilty of more according to the movie) but because she has a positive, reformist attitude which to our eyes is totally fake. The film ends on an ambivalent note. Nicki appears highly delusional, but we don’t know whether she truly believes in her guff.
THE BLING RING does not provide the usual pleasures of moviegoing (something cathartic or energizing) but it does provide an insight into dead-end dreams. I would liken it to one of George A. Romero’s zombie movies. I certainly would not look at a pair of smart shoes the same way again.
Reviewed at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Tuesday 23 July