04 July 2013

"It's the Lifestyle Everybody Kind of Wants"

A number of the films I've seen this year so far have focused on the idea of the tarnished American Dream, from The Great Gatsby to The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Internship, and even, to some extent, Behind the Candelabra. Enter Sofia Coppola's new film, The Bling Ring, which tells the scarily true tale of a group of celebrity-obsessed California teens who, convinced that "reality TV star" and "it girl" are careers to which they should aim for (and, crucially, that they deserve), armed with the powers of Google, TMZ and Perez Hilton, carry out a series of robberies at the homes of the celebrities they adore while their idols are out partying or filming. The movie is based on Nancy Jo Sales' Vanity Fair article, 'The Suspects Wore Louboutins' about a real group of teens, who carried out such robberies and who became known as the titular Bling Ring. And it's the "true story" aspect that is so scary.

As the movie opens, the remorseless Nicki (a very good Emma Watson), post-prison-time is giving an interview about her experiences. Completely without irony, she tells us how it's her journey to push for peace and for the health of the planet. "I might want to lead a country for all I know," she says, entirely sincerely, when asked about her future plans. Nicki is being home-schooled with her sister Emily (Georgia Rock) and adoptive sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga), by their mother (Leslie Mann). I should really say home-"schooled" because most of the "lessons" consist of Adderall dispensing and mood boards based on the lessons to be learned from Angelina Jolie.

Meanwhile, Nicki's friend Rebecca (Katie Chang) has a compulsive stealing problem — her favourite hobby is opening unlocked cars at parties and taking people's wallets, handbags or drugs. When Rebecca meets lonely new boy Marc (Israel Broussard), who can spot a fake Chanel handbag at ten paces and who knows his way around the interwebs, they realise how easy it is to find out celebrities' addresses and then, using Twitter, and TMZ and other gossip sites, establish when they will be out of town. I suspect the addresses may not be the top search engine hit, as shown in the film, but apparently even A-list celebrities do sometimes leave at least one door unlocked when they go out, and leave a spare key under the doormat. Rebecca will casually pocket a paperweight and walk out with the Birkin...and the convertibel. Nothing is sacred, from paintings to pills and Porsches, although they do draw the line at Paris's dog. They all refer to the celebs by their first names, use the phrase "I know, right?" every other sentence, and use enough vocal fry to, well, fry bacon.

Marc and the girls love their new lifestyle, but they aren't particularly careful about who they tell that they hung out at Paris Hilton's house, and, of course, they constantly upload photos of their spoils onto Facebook. They get to be their own paparazzi. When Chloe (Claire Julien) gets a DUI for crashing her car, drunk, into another car, she is so proud that she is just like Lindsay! "I was, like, so drunk they said I shouldn't even be alive let alone driving," she humble-brags.

Rebecca is portrayed as the ring-leader, but she doesn't exactly have to twist the others' arms. "I wanna rob!" Nicki enthuses as they prepare to visit another celebrity's house. Cut to Nicki talking later to the police, **SPOILER ALERT** after they've all been arrested: "I didn't know what they [her friends] were doing." None of them shows any remorse for what they've done — they think they are entitled to all the expensive things and to the celebrity lifestyle — but it's Nicki who is the scariest character in many ways. She genuinely believes that she has been put on this Earth to be a leader. When she finds out she has made it onto TMZ, she is over the moon, and the real people on whom the movie characters are based will certainly love the film, even though they come off horribly, because they are being talked about and noticed, and there is no such thing as bad publicity, right? Right?

There are some moments of humanity too. Despite thinking they are wise beyond their years, the characters often reveal how young and na├»ve they truly are. "If I tell you where everything is, will you let me go?" Rebecca asks hopefully. And Nicki is dragged kicking and weeping into the police car, calling desperately for her mother. "But it's the lifestyle everybody kind of wants," Marc says. "America has a sick fascination with a Bonnie and Clyde thing." The film does feel Haneke-esque at time: to what extent is society to blame for this behaviour and to what extent do we, the viewers, contribute by watching the film and therefore add to real Bling Ring's belief that they are worthy of our attention and our interest. 

I haven't seen This Is the End, which also features Emma Watson (playing herself), but it seems like a good companion piece to The Bling Ring. Both ponder the following question: "whither our celebrity-, image- and brand-obsessed society. The Bling Ring doesn't offer a comprehensive answer, but it makes for very compelling viewing. Oh, and it's only 90 minutes long — at which point, I was dying to get back on Facebook and TMZ. "I know, right?"

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