by BIANCA GARNER
Tuesday 17th July 2013
The Bling Ring is the latest film from Sofia Coppola, inspired by the true case of a gang of Californian teenagers who used the internet to follow celebrities’ whereabouts and then rob their homes. As with Coppola’s previous films – including The Virgin Suicides (1999), Lost in Translation (2003), Marie Antoinette (2006) and Somewhere (2010) – The Bling Ring follows the lives of the rich, the privileged and the bored. In this case it is privileged and bored Hollywood teenagers who yearn for more glamour and excitement in their lives.
The film follows outsider Marc (Israel Broussard) who joins a new school (“Drop out school”), strikes up a friendship with Rebecca (Katie Chang) and Chloe (Claire Julien) who introduce him to home-schooled Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmigo) and they collectively form the “Bling Ring”. It starts with breaking into cars but they soon start burgling homes of the rich and famous and the seriousness of their actions quickly escalates and spirals out of control.
The Bling Ring is slick and stylish, hardly pausing for a breath. The opening credits set up the characters’ desires to be popular by showing their Facebook pages, full of photographs of their party lifestyles intended to make their peers jealous. The editing is fast-paced, with many scenes having a dream-like detachment. There is a montage of the gang dancing, taking drugs, taking photos, with inserted images of luxury consumer items (designer bags, shoes, clothes and expensive jewellery), all to a drum and bass soundtrack. This creates the sense of the fast, hectic and insane lifestyle the teenagers have adopted and offers a larger than life, almost out of body experience so bizarre that it is almost unbelievable despite being inspired by true events.
Through the use of objective cinematography, the film takes a step back and allows the audience to come to their own conclusions about the intentions and influences of the teenage gang. Coppola provides little insight into the teens' back stories yet it is implied the gang’s behaviour stems from the tabloids, the media the teenagers are saturated by and ubiquity of celebrity lifestyles. At the same time, it is suggested that their behaviour could be explained by the absence of parental figures or, in the case of Nicki, parental encouragement to pursue the celebrity lifestyle.
Coppola is clearly interested in the subversive behaviour of the characters and the film often employs documentary techniques, pulling back the camera to follow the characters from a distance. In one scene, the camera is static and positioned outside the house of a reality TV star, whose house is being burgled by Marc and Rebecca. We see the two Bling Ring members through the windows of the house, reflecting the detached documentary technique Coppola has adopted. The decision to shoot the scene in this way suggests the complexity of the characters whose behaviour seem so extraordinary that it is almost impossible to understand their true motives. The film could have solely followed Marc’s journey but the decision to move so quickly between characters and events means there is never a chance to really explore the characters in any depth. In this regard the film emphasises style over substance. Yet the film will certainly appeal to many members of the social media generation who are used to a fast-paced lifestyle and where appearance is everything.
Emma Watson is the highlight of the film; her portrayal of Nicki is engaging and so far from Hermione Granger. Watson successfully captures the self-obsessed and materialistic wannabe star that never reveals her true personality but is always acting and performing her way through life. Watson shows her range as an actress, and her character has some of the wittiest and funniest lines in the film.
For those viewers sitting on the outside looking in, it is hard to connect to the film on an emotional level, and the frenetic lifestyle will seem alien to many. The film touches on the shared obsession of not only the lives of the rich and famous but the infamous as well, acknowledged by Marc when he addresses the camera and states that “America has a sick obsession with a Bonnie and Clyde kinda thing”. Those who do not share this obsession may find it difficult to follow the actions of the Bling Ring. Nonetheless, the film offers a fascinating insight into a different world where what you wear defines you and privilege is everything. If this is what defines the life of the Hollywood rich, famous and aspirational, they are welcome to it.