'The Bling Ring'


The Bling Ring is a cinematic oxymoron. Its ostensible purpose is to indict America for its obsession with celebrities, especially the famous who are famous just for being famous.  It uses a group of shallow teenagers who robbed the likes of Paris Hilton, Megan Fox and a host of other Us Weekly regulars to hold a mirror up to that unhealthy fixation. And it is effective to a point.

But director Sofia Coppola's latest can never quite escape the fact that this film's very existence does the exact thing which it is simultaneously attempting to satirize -- it turns its reprehensible main characters into minor celebrities.

Maybe that's part of the point. There's an elegant symmetry to the fact that the people who robbed Paris Hilton are semi-famous now for being small-time jackasses when Hilton's whole celebrity is built on a different shade of the same behavior. But Coppola, who adapted the screenplay from a Vanity Fair story by Nancy Jo Sales, is never quite able to reconcile the apparent contradiction in terms. Nor is she able to dig any deeper into the unbelievable sense of entitlement to the most banal of things (designer clothes, watches, wads of small bills) that her characters possess, which, in my view, is the source of the real national rot that this tale strafes past.

Coppola's film isn't wholly unsuccessful. In fact, parts of it are quite good in a hypnotic, trashy, OMG-can't-stop-watching kind of way. This is a story that should leave a sour taste in your mouth, and delivers tartness from start to finish.

Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien and Taissa Farmiga are all very good at playing their parts in this synthetic-feeling and depressing story. Chang and Broussard are particularly excellent as the Bling Ringleaders. Watson, meanwhile, continues to add to her impressive portfolio of post-Hermione roles. I wouldn't say The Bling Ring builds on the bona fides she established in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but that was one of the best films of all of last year.

Leslie Mann, mother to Watson and her adopted sister Farmiga, also deserves mention for her turn as the home-schooling/enabling parental figure. She is the avatar, a representative of the "authority" figures at whom's feet Coppola appears to be laying blame.

Though good performances abound and the story itself is captivating even if you're not a regular reader of TMZ, The Bling Ring never congeals into something truly substantive. It is unable to outrun the odd paradox at its core. As such, it's worth seeing, but not worth taking all that seriously.