Sofia Coppola’s latest film is not an action adventure, or a supernatural horror, or a stoner comedy, just so you know. Instead, it’s about the emptiness of the celebrity lifestyle just as her Lost in Translation was about the emptiness of the celebrity lifestyle, and Somewhere, and Marie Antoinette, in its way. Write about what you know, everyone says, and fair play to Sofia. Being ‘Hollywood Royalty’ herself, she can’t be any stranger to excess, and she has thought about it, and keeps thinking about it, and The Bling Ring is, I would say, and for what it’s worth (not much, I suspect) her best film to date. It’s taut, makes its point without hammering it home, well acted (particularly Emma Watson; I know!) and visually delicious. The Louboutins! The Birkins! The Rolexes! Sometimes I think I would like to have a go at the empty celebrity lifestyle, but then I remember I don’t have the time, and have to go get the car MOT’d or go to Sainsbury’s or something. Pity, that.
Based on true events, amazingly, The Bling Ring follows the group of high school Californian teenagers who, between 2008 and 2009, stole more than $3 million in clothes, cash and jewellery from the Hollywood homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom, among others. They actually robbed Ms Hilton five times and when I first read about this I wondered: why didn’t she increase security after the first time? And now I know. She has so much stuff she hadn’t noticed. Imagine! Really: imagine! I think the extent to which you enjoy this film may depend on the extent to which you wish to spend time with any of these people — they are neither smart nor endearing — but as a study of celebrity from the skewed viewpoint of obsession, it is nearly up there with Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. (Look, a film reference; there may be hope for me yet.)
The ringleader is Rebecca (Katie Chang) who is white and privileged, as all The Bling Ring are, but obviously a handful, as she attends a school for those who have dropped out of other schools. When Marc (Israel Broussard), a new boy, trucks up, he is grateful to be befriended by her. Nick doesn’t think much of himself — ‘I’ll never be an A-lister guy,’ he says mournfully — and quickly becomes as hooked on celebrity fashion as she is. They flick through celebrity magazines. ‘Are those shoes Miu Miu?’ she asks. ‘No, Prada,’ he tells her. It’s not funny on the page but it is in context, on screen, as this is actually quite a funny film. Anyway, it’s Rebecca and Marc who initially decide to rob Paris Hilton, having read on some gossip website that she’s hosting a party in Miami, and having Googled her address. They even, when they arrive, find a key under the mat. (No one in this is smart, remember?) Hilton’s home, with its portraits of her own self everywhere, and its cushions adorned with her face, is narcissism beyond satire but get this: it’s her actual house. She loaned it to Coppola for the filming, and even appears briefly in a nightclub scene. (No self-awareness? Did I say that yet?) The pair rifle through her stuff as if it’s TK Maxx (but with less polyester, and last season’s French Connection) and it’s all filmed with such sensuousness you can’t help but revel in the bling yourself. Paris’s shoe room! I think this film might be worth it just to see Paris’s shoe room, frankly.
Rebecca and Marc are soon joined on their sprees by other kids: Chloe (Claire Julien), Nicki (Watson) and Nicki’s adoptive sister, Sam (Taissa Farmiga). ‘Let’s go shopping!’ they say, when they are about to rob someone. Watson as Nicki not only gets the accent right, as far as I can tell, but also gets it right as a wannabe (actress, model, whatever) and is hilarious. When, after they are caught, as they inevitably are — they don’t wear gloves, don’t avoid security cameras, and take pictures of themselves in their designer swag for Facebook — Nicki tells the media she is ready to turn her life around now. ‘I want to run a really big charity one day,’ she says, ‘or maybe a country, for all I know.’ I laughed out loud.
Aside from Nicki and Sam, who are home-schooled by their mother, a phoney New Age nut who believes in The Secret, the parents are largely absent. I found this frustrating initially — how are these kids explaining all their newly acquired goods, for example? — but I can now see Coppola’s making a point: these mums and dads simply aren’t around enough. Or is she? She directs with little judgment; these kids just are. So it’s up to us to ask the questions: why do they get off on celebrities and brand names? What is the desire for fame all about? How have their lives become so meaningless? Is this obsession with celebrity messing up a whole generation? Some will say this film is all visual panache and no substance but it gains its substance from appearing to be all visual panache, if that makes sense. It is what it is skewering, and is brilliant in that way. And although, I suppose, this film is giving these kids the stardom they so crave, I can’t worry about that, as after doing the car and the supermarket I’ve got to get my laptop fixed. The trouble with non-celebrity lifestyles is that they do tend to be full of chores…
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