Is there anything wrong with directors sticking to what they know?
I only ask because Sofia Coppola’s three previous films, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette and Somewhere, dealt with an identical theme – the numbing tedium of extreme privilege – in similarly beguiling style, give or take the odd pompadour. With The Bling Ring, though, she has subtly shifted focus – from the already rich and famous to the hordes of fame-seekers, hoiking themselves over the gates of the asylum – and unburdened herself of empathy in the process.
On paper, there’s a decent true-life story here, one that has already been covered on the page, indeed, in the 2010 Vanity Fair article on which the script is based: that of a clique of Valley Girls (and one Valley Boy) who took their celebrity obsession to criminal levels when they ransacked the houses of idols including Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. And, for a while, it makes for an enjoyably clueless – or Clueless – crime caper. The novice robbers’ prep work involves scouring gossip sites for info on their victims’ movements. The heists are less Ocean’s Eleven and more MTV Cribs, as they linger in and gawp at vast walk-in wardrobes and “nightclub rooms”. And as for keeping things schtum? When there’s hot crime-scene selfies to be posted on Facebook? Like, OMG, no.
As peppily styled as it is, though, with lots of glossy hair bouncing in slo-mo and hip hip-hop, it never transcends its source material’s limitations. Which is to say that the gang come on more like journalistic shorthand for Everything that is Wrong with 21st-century Youth Culture and less like living, breathing characters. Indeed, the most strongly defined member is also the most obviously demented: Emma Watson’s campily sanctimonious Nicki, who treats their indictment as her big media-break-cum-Princess-Di moment. Meanwhile you are left wanting more time with Israel Broussard’s Marc, his self-aware, self-loathing commentary hinting at nuances and motivations unexplored.
A brief mention for another heist movie, Now You See Me, notionally about four magicians pulling off various big-money, smoke-and-mirrors scams but whose greatest con is to disguise a big, dumb blockbuster as something more sophisticated with a cast of indie movie stalwarts (Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Melanie Laurent). From intriguing beginnings, the story devolves into a long, over-scored chase scene just as our shady quartet devolve into boring, Robin Hood-types. The tricks, meanwhile, are no more credible than your average superhero hi-jinx and by the time Isla Fisher is floating in a bubble, Wizard of Oz-style, you’ll be clicking your heels three times.
And finally, poor Google. Now you may think that tax-avoiding mega-corporations are not obvious candidates for sympathy, but then you haven’t seen The Internship, a frat pack (remember them?) comedy which welcomes Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson into the fold as two Luddite, unemployed Generation X-ers who infiltrate its grad scheme.
A few notes for Google chief Eric Schmidt, should he ever consider signing off on more cinematic forays: (1) Google HQ should be sparingly shot, lest the primary-coloured “campus” give off dystopian Prisoner vibes; (2) portrayals of Google employees as lonely workaholics pathologically attached to said “campus” are bad for PR; (3) team-bonding evenings in lap-dancing clubs are bad for HR; (4) Vaughn’s coke-y car salesman demeanour does not make him a good brand ambassador; (5) in fact, verify talent of all involved talent – via some kind of search engine, perhaps?
NEXT WEEK Nicholas Barber uncovers WikiLeaks doc We Steal Secrets ...
Real-life death squad goons stage their bizarre film fantasies in Joshua Oppenheimer’s disturbing, controversial and utterly unique documentary The Act of Killing.... While in another docu with a twist, Sarah Polley turns the spotlight on her own family history in the complex, moving Stories We Tell.
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