Sofia Coppola has always been an interesting if inconsistent filmmaker. Following up 2011’s Somewhere, Coppola offers her own perspective of the American dream – and its effect on youth. For as much as this could easily have led to one of her most interesting films, it only satisfies on one end and the other it only falls dreadfully flat. When The Bling Ring is at its most intriguing it offers a biting satire regarding how celebrity culture has affected the youth but at its worst it also feels rather incomplete. It doesn’t help that within the same year, Harmony Korine had tackled similar subject matter via the brilliant Spring Breakers and right next to such, The Bling Ring feels far more underwhelming.
Taking its own inspiration from the Vanity Fair article The Suspect Wore Louboutins, The Bling Ring recalls the true story of a group of teenagers who rob the houses of a bunch of celebrities in the hopes of finding a sense of glory within their lives, being fascinated with the culture. Coppola’s cynicism has become achingly clear, because of how The Bling Ring is so deeply ingrained in privileged celebrity culture, in a hypnotic sense to capture how it damages the youth at the core. But drawing back another comparison to Spring Breakers, what exactly is The Bling Ring trying to say about the moral decline of its generation?
At the film’s very best, it captures the emptiness of the lifestyle which these teenagers are living – deliberately having been written as annoying caricatures. In some sense it works with trying to capture how these teenagers feel their lives are empty until they end up gaining notoriety for the crimes that they have pulled off, but at the same time it doesn’t form any interesting character arcs because we still see shallow caricatures. Emma Watson is undoubtedly the best of the bunch, because of how much of the film is centered around her own arc – since she actually feels like a character. And it was bad enough all the rest felt as interchangeable as they did, because by the end I had only remembered Watson.
The satire doesn’t always work, because it hardly ever feels present. That’s not to say that The Bling Ring isn’t occasionally funny, but because of the fact that Coppola has already established that the premise was one that revolved around the shallow lifestyle of these teenagers, I can’t help but feel she seems to have stopped saying more beyond there. She stops going beyond “this is what the generation is turning into” and then repeats it for as much as the film’s running time allows, and quickly enough watching empty teens trying to find a sense of meaning only becomes tiresome.
With all of these frustrations abound, what still keeps The Bling Ring watchable enough is Coppola’s energetic visual style and the soundtrack. I think it goes without saying that the soundtrack is great, because of how well it captures the youth and their desire to be more by ranging from contemporary artists like Sleigh Bells, Frank Ocean, Kanye West, and Phoenix and classics like Can and King Crimson – perfectly highlighting a sense of disconnect from reality on Coppola’s own end when addressing what these teenagers want out of their own lives. And never is it any less than clever.
But by the time The Bling Ring had ended, I had only felt that another part of the story was missing. I was just unsure of what else I had to say, because I didn’t feel any sort of attachment to what was happening. Like the rest of Sofia Coppola’s directorial efforts, it’s still a fascinating one in theory, but the consistency of her work has always been rocky. At her best she can turn out brilliance like Lost in Translation or the underrated Somewhere, whereas a film like this and Marie Antoinette seems immersed in one universe without any sense of invitation. Technically, it’s an accomplished effort, but it still feels as shallow as the teens and the lives they live. I suppose that’s the point, but even then I never found much to latch onto.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via A24.
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Screenplay by Sofia Coppola, from the Vanity Fair article The Suspects Wore Louboutins by Nancy Jo Sales
Produced by Roman Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley
Starring Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga
Release Year: 2013
Running Time: 90 minutes