In UK cinemas this week following its Cannes Un Certain Regard debut, Sofia Coppola follows up 2010’s so-so Somewhere with The Bling Ring (2013). Based on journalist Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fare article ‘The Suspect Wore Louboutins’, Coppola’s latest is a hyper-stylised satire on the role of celebrity – but how far can a film about shallowness go before it becomes shallow itself? The Bling Ring charts a gang of over-privileged, under-achieving teens whose obsession with the lives of the rich and famous leads them into committing a series of housebreaks across the palatial mansions that litter the Hollywood Hills.
Using entertainment blogs to alert them of when their idols will be out of town, this conceited teen crime movie also reflects a world where social networking has diluted the principles of privacy, bringing the once unattainable stars of stage and screen within touching distance. They eventually get caught, but with the cameras now thrust firmly in their faces, wouldn’t the true crime have been if they’d never been noticed? Marc (Israel Broussard) is our chaperon into this world of privilege and greed. Despite being the new kid at school, he quickly makes friends with ultra-popular Rebecca (Katie Chang), sharing a mutual fascination with celebs and fashion.
Marc and Rebecca spend their days dreaming of opulence, and their evenings looting local cars for valuables. This mini crime spree quickly escalates into full blown larceny, and before long the duo have assembled a rag-tag group of short skirt-wearing, high heel-sporting vagabonds. Whilst Marc may be our escort into this world of superficial stardom, it’s British actress Emma Watson’s performance as the suspiciously naive Nicki that allows Coppola’s latest expose of celebrity culture to transcend its vapid and monotonous formula. Harry Potter star Watson commendably succeeds in breathing new life and some much-needed emotion into an otherwise blasé and insipid rabble of teen burglars.
The Bling Ring is yet another example of Coppola writing about what she knows best – considering her own privileged background. Yet, it’s difficult to decipher if her new film is a satire on materialism or just another meditative study on the perils of infamy. Coppola’s insistence on immersing us into the lives of the ‘one percentile’ has already divided audiences, with her dramas so often glamorising extravagant lifestyles before pulling the rug from under the audience’s feet. However, in her attempts to poke fun at the cult of celebrity, she’s perhaps forgotten to allow us a character to truly identify with.
At its best, The Bling Ring plays out like a fitting bedfellow to US indie director Harmony Korine’s recent satire on Western materialism – Spring Breakers (2012) – which replaced the established concept of the American Dream with the annual adolescent decadence of summer college vacations. Unfortunately, at its worst Coppola’s unapologetic teen movie hybrid is simply another indulgent, poorly-constructed character piece – which, like its bling-hungry protagonists, is far too obsessed with its own cosmetic appearance.