Like a watered down Spring Breakers
Sofia Coppola is definitely a talented filmmaker who may one day have a career as stirring and epic as her father's, but even strong directors have missteps and The Bling Ring is her first (Marie Antoinette fan here). While the allure of children committing crimes on unsuspecting celebrities may sound like the perfect kind of social commentary film for the director it turns out it isn't. It's unclear why, but Coppola simply missed every mark with this film.
Not to be entirely negative before we hit the main review I will say that Coppola's style is still, well, stylish. Sadly, when your style loses all interest and substance it isn't really that helpful.
The Bling Ring
The Bling Ring is based on the true story of a group of teens in Hollywood who realize how easy it is to steal from famous people. Rebecca (Katie Chang) befriends Marc (Israel Broussard) and the two troubled youths begin to break into celebrity's incredibly easy-to-break-into houses with their friends Nicki (Emma Watson), Chloe (Claire Julien) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga). As the all too recent true story goes the kids eventually get caught. The film is told by jumping from the children explaining what they did after getting caught and showing how the whole thing unfolded. There's really not that much to the story itself so it rests upon Coppola to imbue it with the thrust it needs to become interesting.
Unfortunately, she doesn't and the film becomes dreadfully boring even before the halfway mark. The thieving becomes truly repetitive and uninteresting as the kids go from one house to another and Coppola fails to develop any cohesive or interesting themes. The point of the film, as it so blatantly tells you, is how we're all obsessed with self, celebrity and pop culture, thus driving these teens to commit these crimes. There's no subtly to it, however, so the message becomes blatantly obvious at the get go and the art falls away into tedium. At one point dialog in the film states the exact motivations of the characters espousing a fear that an audience wouldn't get what Coppola was already obviously trying to say. By the time a second montage of stills of famous celebs at parties and events pops up the entire movie feels stale from rehashing its seemingly single idea over and over.
It doesn't help that Spring Breakers did this movie better and more provocatively in the exact same year. Where Harmony Korine's film is a shock to the senses, forcing the viewer into uncomfortable situations that confront our perceptions of American ideals and teen life, The Bling Ring merely retreads over tired commentary about our obsession with celebrity. Everything in Bling Ring has been said before, and Coppola's surprisingly tepid direction of the film doesn't force it in any new directions. The whole experience feels tired.
The cast doesn't help that much. Much of the film has a very unscripted feel to it, but the young actors are hit and miss with their deliver. Broussard and Chang definitely deliver the strongest performances, but they're far from stellar and can feel awkward. Meanwhile the jury is still out on Emma Watson ever being able to really act. Her character here is supposed to be shallow and vapid so her disjointed performance works, but she'll need to do better than this if she wants to move beyond Potter. Coppola clearly wasn't interested in drawing out the performances from her actors, instead focusing on their look and feel. It would have worked if the themes of the film had been built in an interesting way, but instead everything is so blatant that nothing comes close to intriguing or challenging.
What you might miss when you're nodding off is that Coppola is still using her directorial skills to make scenes look good. While her montages and juxtapositions may be blatant and tired, she does show signs of the graceful filmmaking she's become known for. Relentless shots of the teens dancing and partying do eventually get tiresome, but before they do it's clear that Copolla is developing a feeling of invulnerability and a world of fantasy. The continuous "selfie" taking of the teens and Copolla's rampant cutting to shots of Facebook and other social networks where they share their crimes is also a telling sign of the director's attempt to comment on the narcissistic society she sees in these teens. The problem is she never really creates a cohesive theme around it all and thus never says anything with the film as a whole.
That is probably The Bling Rings weakest point of all; nothing is said. The story unfolds, and Coppola tells you exactly what it means through some very obvious tactics, but there's no clash to bring us through to the end. We're given a thesis that everyone knows and then not delivered a conclusion or statement on it. The film simply is what it is, and that is boring.