Hello, friends. This week I took a break from the big studio tentpole action movies to check out The Bling Ring, the latest offering from one of my favorite filmmakers, Sofia Coppola.
Years ago my wife and I organized an imaginary collection of filmmakers we've dubbed the "100% Club" -- directors whose entire filmography, in our opinions, has been outstanding. It's a tough list to make, as many excellent filmmakers can fall into the "95% club" after a single poor showing. Our respective clubs aren't the same because we're both free thinkers, but there is definitely a lot of overlap. Sofia Coppola is on both of our lists. I find her movies to be understated, efficient and gorgeous to listen to and look at. She's a filmmaker who never clubs the audience over the head with the all-too familiar cues "Hollywood" movies employ that tell us how to feel, and I appreciate that. I get that a lot of people had problems with Coppola's take on Marie Antionette, but personally I thought it was a misunderstood gem.
With her latest offering, Coppola stays right on target with another fantastic movie. From a screenplay based on a Vanity Fair article, The Bling Ring tackles the true story of the "Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch," a group of Los Angeles high school kids who famously broke into and burgled the houses of some of Hollywood's most notable young celebrities -- Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson and Lindsay Lohan. From the opening frames Coppola takes a straight up approach and allows the story to just play out and tell itself, giving the movie a voyeuristic feel. This theme is illustrated in one notable scene showing an entire break-in played out from a single, silent wide shot of an all-glass house in the Hollywood Hills, set against the flickering sea of lights below. There is a distinct lack of judgement and heavy handedness in the movie that this scene personifies beautifully -- we are merely peeking in on the events as they happened.
Because of this choice, Coppola has been accused by some, most notably one of the victims, actress Rachel Bison, for glorifying the crimes and those who committed them. Quite the contrary, I found the movie to be one long statement, albeit a very subtle one, on fame, privacy, materialism, social media, personal boundaries, remorse, the cult of celebrity, and the Millennial generation's seeming sense of entitlement and utter lack of distinction between right and wrong. The teenagers committing these burglaries show no remorse and seem to not even understand that what they're doing is a crime. There's a sense that they feel like it's no big deal, and that they belong in the homes they're robbing, that they deserve the same possessions as their idols. The houses are simple to find, right there on Google Earth, the front doors are unlocked (or in Hilton's case the key was literally under the mat) so what's the big deal in strolling in and doing a little "shopping?" As a result, the film does, at first glance, have a very shallow and vapid vibe. But dig a little deeper and you'll pick up on the subtle social commentary Coppola is laying down throughout the film. Thankfully, she leaves it up to the audience to figure this stuff out instead of hammering it home with on-the-nose dialogue.
The excellent cast is largely unknown, aside from Harry Potter actress Emma Watson, who really steals the show as a shallow Valley girl along for some criminal fun and games. As Coppola did in her first feature, The Virgin Suicides, she displays a real knack for drawing out understated, believable performances from inexperienced young actors. And like all of her movies, it looks amazing and is punctuated by an effective soundtrack, in this case club music and hip-hop from the likes of Kanye, M.I.A. and deadmau5. The settings in Coppola's films are always almost characters themselves and The Bling Ring is no exception. Hollywood has never been more empty and devoid of substance as it is here through Coppola's lens. And at a trim 90 minutes, the film zips along nicely. Hats off to her for not taking part in the recent deluge of indulgent filmmakers unable to bring a movie in under two hours.
The Bling Ring is a very smart, subtle social satire from a very smart, subtle filmmaker. I couldn't really find any fault in it, so Coppola remains firmly entrenched in my 100% Club, and I give it a glowing 9 out of 10.