The last major film to be based on a magazine article sent, you might recall, Ben Affleck to the stage of the Oscars. Yet the ambitions of Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, in this case based on a Vanity Fair feature, feel more modest from the outset than Affleck’s Argo. It’s a surprisingly straightforward retelling of how a bunch of wanting-for-not-very-much Hollywood teens broke into the houses of the rich and famous, and pretty much helped themselves.
The ringleaders of the unlikely crime gang are Katie Chang’s Rebecca and Israel Broussard’s Marc, backed up by Emma Watson’s Nicki, amongst others. The young ensemble all turn in good performances, and Watson can add another interesting choice to her post-Harry Potter film career (check out the bumpy but interesting The Perks Of Being A Wallflower for a further example).
That original article, and subsequently the film, was based on a true story, of how the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan had their riches pilfered by a young gang of fame-obsessed Los Angeles residents. And presumably, in the depths of the original material, is a far darker and more judgemental story than the one that Coppola wants and chooses to tell. For the major surprise about The Bling Ring is that it’s pitched more as a breezy caper, arguably a companion piece to Spring Breakers, than anything else. It’s better and more accessible than Spring Breakers on the whole, but its edges are far blunter.
Yet that seems to be a conscious decision here. Coppola doesn’t pick sides in her script, and that allows us as the audience to marvel at the riches that people keep behind closed (but bizarrely rarely locked) doors, and then watch as people help themselves to the kind of instant opulence that the likes of reality TV seem to offer us. It all seems so victimless the way it’s put across, that it’s something of a jolt when things start to unravel.
That said, Coppola doesn’t seem quite as interested in that as she is in what happens even further down the line. The parts of the story she’s most invested in are the beginning, the middle, and the bit after the end. That contributes to the fast, economic running time, with the film clocking in at a just-about-right 90 minutes.
In that running time, Coppola does fit in some excellent sequences, too. One particular house ransack is shot from afar, a steady, fixed shot that only zooms after two of the Bling Ring have explored it. It feels voyeuristic, that we’ve vaguely complicit. And it becomes, as the film progresses, quite hard to damn the gang itself for basically eating up what the media is serving them. Coppola is an outsider to Hollywood life, and her film is perhaps more sympathetic as a result.
And it’s a fast, digestible if surprisingly forgettable caper she ultimately serves up. Punctuated by some strong performances and the occasional standout moment, there’s plenty within The Bling Ring to like and enjoy, but surprisingly little that goes under the surface. It’s still an entertaining movie, and worth seeking out. But it’s one that may have been that bit more interesting had, at some point, Coppola opted for a slightly different perspective.
The Bling Ring is out in UK cinemas on the 5th July.
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