Thursday, July 4, 2013

Pillaging in a material world

Based on a Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales, Sofia Coppola’s fifth feature dramatizes the true story of a pack of middle- to upper-class teenager delinquents from Calabasas, California, whose collective predilection for haute couture and tizzy adulation for celebrity materialists led to a habit of breaking into the Hollywood Hills homes of Paris Hilton and the like—“Let’s go shopping!” is the rallying cry—where they snagged copious amounts of designer booty and, at times, just lingered for a while, perhaps to feel they belonged there, or perhaps just to savour the transgression. As with Coppola’s 2006 feature Marie Antoinette, The Bling Ring depicts a milieu of impossible abundance—such abundance that no one can possibly watch these audacious acts of kleptomania and feel sorry for the victims. (Obviously—the group’s holy grail is the home of Lindsay Lohan.) Rather, the film prompts questions regarding how these kids can possibly sustain such devotion to breaking and entering and bling-gobbling, particularly when it seems so painfully clear that they’re going to get caught. They’re called security cameras, guys.

The film also prompts questions as to why we should care. The kids are at times very amusing, at times genuinely appalling; often they dare us to write them off as complete idiots, though there is something sympathetic about Marc (Israel Broussard), the new kid at school who almost randomly falls in with what will become the film’s criminal clique, a group in which he will become the sole male participant. Coppola isn’t interested in any false redemption, or even identification; she keeps her subjects at a certain distance. There are moments when that distance yields exquisite cinema: the unbroken shot, taken from somewhere very high above the action, in which Marc and bling ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) individually work their way through Orlando Bloom’s house, moving room to room, flicking lights on and off, is something to marvel at. The Bling Ring can’t be faulted for not examining our relationship to things and spaces from a cool perspective that incorporates both a sense of anthropological objectivity and immaculate stylistic control—if you haven’t noticed yet, the younger Coppola just happens to be a world-class master of the form. The subject matter, however, has its limits. Thankfully, I don’t think those limits are reached until close to the end of the film’s 90-minute runtime, when arrests are made, reporters crowd the kids’ homes, and everything inevitably wraps up cutely and flatly. 

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