Is there anything more dull these days than “holding a mirror up to celebrity culture”? Why do people continue to think that this is any kind of important statement? BREAKING: PEOPLE OBSESSED WITH SHALLOW THINGS ALSO SHALLOW! NEWS AT 11! Celebrity culture is already a hall of mirrors, so holding a mirror up to it is like trying to find a crumb of insight through the wrong end of a telescope. Decadence can be fun, but it isn’t here, and in a year that’s already given us The Great Gatsby and Spring Breakers, watching spoiled teenagers hold up designer jeans and say “wow” without changing expression is screechingly f*cking dull. With so many vicarious celebrations of wealth masquerading as critiques as it is, I think you owe the audience at least the wisp of a point of view, and there’s none here. There is no here here.
The Bling Ring, which is, like, based on a true story, and already spawned a reality show, is about a group of bored, boring Calabasas, California teens with nothing going on in their lives other than Us Weekly and a vague desire to be like the people they read about in Us Weekly. Luckily, the people in Us Weekly are just empty shells wearing expensive clothes, so to be like them all the kids have to do is steal their wardrobe and be photographed, which they do, while flipping their hair dramatically and delivering gems like “wow” and “oh my God.” Repeat this process roughly six thousand times and you have The Bling Ring, a movie that thinks dull people doing dull things is an endlessly fascinating character study.
These dull characters are played by actors who are either utterly without charisma or adequate at evoking the vacuous charmlessness of their subjects. Emma Watson is the most well known of the bunch, and her posey/poutey shoulder shrug hair flip thing gets old about the hundredth time she does it. Claire Julien, as tangential character Chloe, comes closest to recognizable humanity, but the acting paradoxically seems to get worse in order from smallest to largest part, culminating with Katie Chang as ringleader Rebecca Ahn, giving a performance that makes Paul Walker chewing styrofoam look like Robert Downey Jr. chewing scenery. “Understated,” you might call it. Either way, it’s not what you’d call a “fun watch.” That these kids can steal stuff from celebrities just by Googling their addresses and opening unlocked doors is pretty much the first and last interesting thing about this movie. Hey, has anyone Googled Sofia Coppola’s address to find out where she stores her movie cameras? It’d be cool if someone “borrowed” those for a while.
With characters this unlikable, and not unlikable because they’re mean or immoral, but mainly because they’re dull and grating, it’s not enough to simply show us that they exist. We know these people exist, we’re bombarded with them, it’s not a revelation. I can’t turn on my TV without running into one of these shitheads. To make this compelling, you either have to give them some kernel of recognizable personality or make them entertainingly over-the-top avatars, a la Spring Breakers†. In this case, satire requires a little more than just “hey, here’s reality.”
And I’m not even convinced it is reality, so much as a surface-level reflection of what you could get by watching any news report about these kids. The difficult part of this story would be having to engage the common thread between us and these kids, to have to recognize something of ourselves in them. But Sofia Coppola is too “subtle” for that, so The Bling Ring requires no soul searching, it only inspires a strong desire to get these kids the f*ck out of your face.
The “characters” are just shells. Unengaging collections of shit-stupid-rich-kids-say, like “totes” and (*rap lyrics*), delivered affectlessly by semi-comatose non-actors. What are we getting out of this, exactly? Watching this makes me feel dumber. I honestly think a better send up of this “culture” would be to ignore it completely.
Sample dialog (with both characters looking at laptops):
“Mischa Barton got a DUI today.”
Do NOT try to drink every time a character says “wow” because you will die.
The biggest question I have coming out of The Bling Ring is whether Sofia Coppola realized there wasn’t enough material here for a movie while she was making it or afterwards. I could understand if she bought the rights to the story thinking there was going to be more to it and then was already in too deep to turn back when she realized there wasn’t, but with the benefit of hindsight, there’s maaaaybe five minutes of material in this movie. I mean how many goddamned times can I watch kids fawn over jewelry and pose for Facebook pictures? And ugh, do we really need another porny wealth montage? SNOOOOZE.
I cannot overstate what a boring piece of shit this movie is.
I mean, to me at least. If you think “I wanna rob!” is a hilarious line, pregnant with import, a cutting statement about where we are as a culture, than by all means, watch away. For me, “Girls, time for your Adderall!” delivered by Leslie Mann, one of the best actresses working today, was far and away the best line of the movie, and even that was sort of a half-shrug on the chuckle scale. Coppola never really comes close to finding what makes these people human beings. And yo, isn’t that, like, her job? At least find what makes them entertaining.
The only reason I didn’t give it an F was that they didn’t harp on the fact that the gay kid was gay, which was pleasantly casual. And I needed to differentiate it from the last Coppola-kid movie, Charles Swan, which was worse.
†Both movies distributed by A24, incidentally. As much as I hated this one, I love that a filmmaker had the freedom to make it.