The Bling Ring
Sofia Coppola makes perfume ads. Exclusively. Which would be fine if she made perfume ads exclusively, but she doesn’t. Some of her perfume ads are perfume ads and some of them are perfume ads stretched out to ninety minutes and released theatrically as feature films.
Sometimes her perfume ads are anchored by competent scripts, top-level performances and strong source material. Sometimes they showcase a keen sense for texture and tone and an overall aesthetic that’s not only pleasing, it’s intoxicating. But mostly, they’re like some sweetly fragrant mist that drifts ever so briefly past your field of consciousness and fades just as quickly.
The Bling Ring is her first perfume ad that isn’t designed to be a perfume ad that actually feels like it was designed to sell perfume. In the same way Marie Antoinette was a high-end wank in a confectionery kingdom, The Bling Ring is a doe-eyed adolescent finger-fuck in a walk-in wardrobe. It’s the true story of a bunch of teenage middle-class Californians who run around The Hills breaking into celebrities’ houses and stealing shit. If that seems like I’m underselling it – I’m not. The film is a logline for itself. It’s an extended trailer.
Of the bunch, the only actor who seems to really have a grasp on the material is Emma Watson – something of a surprise, as one might imagine that her understanding of post-consumerist celebrity culture is somewhat clouded by virtue of being one of the most famous women in the universe. Nevertheless, she plays the whole thing with an irony and practice-perfect valley girl drawl that, though broad to the borders of parody, steals every scene she’s in.
This may be down to the fact that her character appears to be one of the few that has actually been written. The other actors seem to have been left largely to their own devices – victims of a “go in the closest and react to the handbags” school of direction that leaves them largely interchangeable, swapping endless “whoas”, “sicks”, “dopes” and “fucks” and offering little else in the way of insight or interest. It’s lazy, it’s languid, and it’s boring.
And that’s the crux of it. This movie is an utter bore. Stories about vapid, vacuous zombies can work without being vapid and vacuous themselves (see: Bret Easton Ellis), but the problem here is that Sofia Coppola makes perfume ads, and that is because Sofia Coppola is interested in perfume, and pretty dresses, and designer shoes. She’s not holding up a mirror to celebrity culture – she’s gazing into it, cooing at all the glitter and gaud.
The second act is an exercise in knuckle-munching monotony, as the gang return to the scenes of their crimes again and again. Like the characters themselves, any of these ‘heist scenes’ are totally interchangeable. In fact, they’re all identical. By the fifth time I’d listened to the gang squeal about a Gucci backpack in Paris Hilton’s disco room, I started to wonder whether there was some technical fault with the print I was watching.
There is stuff to enjoy here – but it’s sparse and sporadic. An extended scene in which the girls, coked up, piss around with a loaded handgun is ball-burstingly tense, and Leslie Mann’s spiritual-life-coach-soccer-mom monster is teeth-grindingly good fun, sharing great anti-chemistry with her Emma Watson daughter. The soundtracks whams, it looks bloody gorgeous, and the casting of Google Maps, Globetrotting and TMZ as the secret weapons in modern miscreant’s arsenal is pulled off deftly for the most part, clearly reaching for some kind of Social Network zeitgeist aura and not completely falling flat.
But it’s so dull, guys. I really can’t stress that enough. And a ninety-minute modern fairytale about a bunch of beautiful seventeen-year-olds snorting coke and star-fucking socialites’ jewellery boxes in a consequence-free environment has no cause to feel this tedious.