Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: The Bling Ring

I’ve long been a fan of Sofia Coppola’s work – especially Lost in Translation, which ranks as one of my all-time favorite movies.  That work really showcases Coppola’s ability to build out a robust story in spaces where very little seems to be going on.  So when I heard that she was directing a feature starring the underrated Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), I was sure The Bling Ring would be a can’t miss project.  Unfortunately, I may have been completely wrong in this assessment.

The plot of the movie is based on the real-life events surrounding a group of misguided youths who take their pop culture obsession and excessive materialism to the extreme when they systematically burglarize the homes of Hollywood socialites.  Designer clothing, gaudy jewelry, fast cars, and drugs lead this group deeper and deeper down this road of criminal self-indulgence even as the walls of justice close in on them.

So let’s get right into it.  I am slightly unsure if The Bling Ring is really good, or really really bad.  And here’s why.  For a story that has a juicy mix of narcissism, insecurity, and deviance, the movie feels mundane and almost pointless.  The characters are bland, vapid, and annoying and this makes for bad storytelling.  It’s hard to relate to them or to empathize with them; and worse still to rationalize a single thing that they do.  And as events unfolded and the plot thickened, I found myself increasingly disengaged and disinterested in their plight.

However, the optimist in me who believes in Sofia Coppola as filmmaker wonders (ever-so-slightly) if this is by design.  Some have hailed The Bling Ring as a brilliant commentary on youthful ambivalence and society’s shallow obsession with all things celebrity.  To believe this then might suggest that my reaction to this film might be by design and thus a stroke of genius by the director.  And as much as I would like to buy this, it’s just too tough a pill to swallow.  First and foremost, storytellers are supposed to create narratives that are compelling and entertain and no matter what kind statement this film is trying to make, it fails to do either.

It should come as no big surprise that Emma Watson is the best part of the movie and that goes beyond the obvious reasons.   It’s always interesting to watch an actor take on a role that runs contrary to their previous work; especially so when they embrace the challenge the way Watson embraces the role of Nikki – an aspiring celebrity.  She exudes superficiality, materialism, narcissism, and every other ism one would associate with the fringe of the entertainment industry.  Her ability to capture the pseudo hoity valley girl accent is also a marvel.

Unfortunately, Watson is in reality the third star in this film.  Top billing goes to Katie Chang and Israel Broussard as Rebecca and Marc.  As two youths who meet at an at-risk high school, they are the driving force behind the burglaries and thus the success of the movie rests on their inexperienced shoulders.  Chang’s performance is empty and bland rendering her character uninteresting, while Broussard’s is hammed up and overly eager.  In some ways their work should compliment one another, but their respective performances only work to drag the film deeper into mediocrity.

As for Claire Julien and Taissa Farmiga (sister of Vera) as the final two members of the crew, I believe you could walk to your local mall and pick out any two people to take their respective places and get the same level of performance.  To say that the un-dynamic duo add very little to the movie is a gross understatement.  And Leslie Mann, well one can only wonder who she owed a favor to, because her presence in a movie of this ilk is both odd and perplexing.

So you might have surmised by now that this is not a particularly good movie.  I am going to guess that you could probably find a movie-of-the-week on Lifetime Network or Oxygen that is on par with (if not better than) this one.  It lacks that big picture feel and a compelling narrative to warrant a theatrical release.  Now perhaps someone smarter than me with a better eye for cinematic art can tell you what nuances I missed or why this is actually a film of great merit, but as a regular movie enthusiast I believe that it flat out stinks.  I would avoid this one at all cost, but then you probably don’t really have to go out of your way to miss it.  It’s not going to get a big marketing push on DVD or show up on any interesting lists.  Instead I would direct your attention to The Perks of Being a Wallflower to get your Emma Watson fix.  In my opinion, it was one of the best movies of 2012.

Standout Performance:  Emma Watson.


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