Sydney Film Festival – The Bling Ring review

The Bling Ring

By Simon Miraudo
June 14, 2013

If it was Sofia Coppola‘s intention to portray Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Audrina Patridge as the unfortunate, sympathetic victims of teens run rampant in The Bling Ring, then, great work? Based on the real-life crime spree that saw Hollywood’s best – if not brightest – fall victim to 18-year-old thieves, the material is ripe for the cinematic realising. Coppola even seems like a good fit as a writer and director, what with her brilliant debut, The Virgin Suicides, also dealing with a group of girls gone wrong. But you know who’s a better fit? Harmony Korine, scripter of the still-unsettling Kids. And he kind of has already adapted this tale, with the neon phantasmagoria Spring Breakers; a far better critique of unchecked aspiration and America’s obsession with – and appreciation for – excess. In contrast, Coppola’s picture is dreary and dull, despite the electrifying cuts on the omnipresent soundtrack.

We enter the story through the eyes of Marc (Israel Broussard), the default protagonist, on account of him being the only remotely non-detestable member of the titular Ring. The new kid at a Calabasas school, he’s befriended by the dead-eyed Rebecca (Katie Chang), with whom he shares a fascination for TMZ, trashy celebrities, and Louboutins. Realising their favourite stars are publicly revealing when they’ll be out of the country for fashion shoots and swanky premieres, they locate their houses on Google Earth, and stroll right through the front door. (No alarms, no locks, no worries; the residents of Los Angeles are certainly not interested in disproving the rest of the world’s worst assumptions about them. It’s like all those Californian sketches from Saturday Night Live came true.)

The Bling Ring

Making away with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of swag, they bring along party girls Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and Chloe (Claire Julien) to their next heist in the Hollywood Hills. Soon, they’re the toast of L.A.’s club scene. That is, until Marc gets his mug snapped on a surveillance video, alerting the police of their identities, and bringing their reign of terror to a swift end. It’s not all bad news though. Maybe they’ll actually get to meet the celebs they adore so much when they’re called as witnesses in the trial!

Of Coppola’s previous effort, the unfairly maligned Somewhere, I said this: “[She’s] spurned for being “hip,” as if the marriage of lasting, indelible imagery with a chic soundtrack was the sign of a hack filmmaker. It’s not.” That talent – which many try to emulate, and fail in the process – belongs only to those with their finger on the pulse; someone’s who able to capture the zeitgeist, and create genuine pop moments. The Bling Ring screams for that treatment. It never quite gets there.

The Bling Ring

It looks good, thanks to cinematographers Christopher Blauvelt and the late Harris Savides, not to mention Coppola’s exquisite ability of knowing where to put the camera for the most memorable shot. But there’s a real vapidity here. Marc makes a throwaway comment towards the end in which he decries America’s “sick fascination” with ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ style folk heroes, as well as the culture of star-f*****g in general. Actions, however, speak louder than words, and I didn’t really feel either of those things effectively skewered in The Bling Ring’s 90-minute runtime. I met totally repellent characters – sometimes hilariously so, particularly Watson’s vacuous Nicki; a star-making turn if she wasn’t already a star –  yet not ones that felt human or complex. They’re props; pretty ones, assembled to populate a frame alongside the Prada handbags and Alexander McQueen sunglasses. It’s all just matter.

This is no caper; no tale of corruption; no exploration of betrayal between friends. It features those things in passing, but it is not about those things. Spring Breakers may hammer home its messages. Still, there’s undeniably a lot simmering under its gorgeous, gaudy surface. This just feels like a music video. Two of our stars sing along to Kanye West’s All of the Lights at one point. Frank Ocean’s Super Rich Kids plays over the credits. Those songs do The Bling Ring‘s job much better than the movie ever does.

2.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

The Bling Ring played the Sydney Film Festival. It arrives in Australian cinemas August 8, 2013.

One Response to “Sydney Film Festival – The Bling Ring review”

  1. Where is the bling ring playing on Sydney!!!

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