starring Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Mann
screenplay by Sofia Coppola, based on the VANITY FAIR article by Nancy Jo Sales
directed by Sofia Coppola
by Walter Chaw Doomed to be compared--unfavorably, I think--to Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring is better seen as another document of ennui and privilege and the different ways the same old dissatisfaction and yearning manifest in endlessly evolving, endlessly confounding ways, generation by generation. Appearing as they both do in the middle of a ceaseless recession with our leaders arguing, as they did in the late-1930s, about social programs that one side believed indispensable and the other recklessly overpriced, neither film is terribly different in structure and execution from The Wizard of Oz. Coppola, upon reflection, is the perfect artist for an updating of Dorothy's trip to the Emerald City--she is, after all, Dorothy. If you were to freeze-frame the film during its opening titles (scored brilliantly, discordantly, by the Sleigh Bells' "Crown on the Ground"), you'd note, as my editor Bill did on Twitter, that Coppola's own credit reads "Written and Directed by Rich Bitch Sofia Coppola." Self-awareness, self-deprecation, it's all of those things, but what it is most, I think, is a kind of acceptance: her own peace with her relationship with the two "acts" of her public life, the first indicated perhaps by her father not protecting her well enough as an actress, the second by her move to behind the camera as a director of quiet, trance-like pictures about little girls lost. If The Bling Ring is ultimately the least of Coppola's films, it gathers weight, develops context, taken as a whole with the others. Say what you will and count me deep in her camp, Coppola is every bit the auteur her father is--and it's his fault.
What The Bling Ring does best is function as an access point and Rosetta Stone for Coppola's work. It offers a précis, a link between The Virgin Suicides and Somewhere (and Marie Antoinette and Lost in Translation), and in essaying these teenagers who want so desperately to become what they behold, Coppola expresses her empathy with their longing while offering up a couple of scenes that illustrate their essential loneliness. The final film shot by the wonderful Harris Savides (Meek's Cutoff DP Christopher Blauvelt took over when Savides died during production), The Bling Ring would've been another masterpiece had it relied more on the visual and less on dialogue that lands as unusually spot-on--especially for Coppola, who, lately, had developed a comfort with silence. I'm thinking of a moment in which two of our beautiful little criminals rob a glass house and Coppola pulls back, way back, to see them running silent from room to room like rats in a see-through habitat, framed against the Los Angeles panorama. Maybe Coppola feels beholden to the True Story, a responsibility to provide a narrative context, complete with cutaways to shrink-sessions and a moralizing epilogue. Whatever compelled it, it's a shame there's nothing in the film the equivalent of the circling, circling, circling opening of Somewhere. It tells of the same sickness as the rest of her work, in other words, but it aims for accessibility instead of sublimity. That's the irony of an egalitarian film about the landed gentry and its sycophants, and if harmless, even useful, ultimately The Bling Ring is the lesser for it.
eOne's Canadian Blu-ray release of The Bling Ring boasts a 1.85:1, 1080p transfer showcasing a visual ethic that highlights the ephemeral nature of these slight creatures and the obscure objects of their desires. The Red Epic-generated image is pinkish and diffuse, which does nothing to decrease detail yet gives everything the hard-to-define quality of a photo after-image. By itself, the way the movie looks is a more savage commentary than anything in the narrative body proper; Savides will be missed. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is conservative but dynamic, with powerful bass when called upon; I would love to see an entire film shot inside nightclubs up and down the script, wordless, engulfing. Complaints that The Bling Ring wasn't didactic enough are countered by the desire of consumers of the true fana that it actually be less coherent. Spring Breakers, in other words--the best Sofia Coppola film of the year and the picture I'm surprised The Bling Ring was not.
The only supplement on this disc is "The Making of The Bling Ring" (23 mins., HD), a cast-and-crew chit-chat wherein Coppola's collaborators try their best to describe her and then executive producer Fred Roos, Francis Coppola's longtime collaborator, mentions the difficulties of casting a "17-year-old Asian dragon lady" in the role eventually filled by Katie Chang, at which point I told the image of Fred Roos on my television to go fuck himself. Hardly revelatory, it's typical EPK stuff sprinkled with B-roll, though Coppola seems more alert than usual. I was interested to learn that Paris Hilton allowed her actual home to be used in the film, suggesting to me that of all the fucked-up shit going on here, the fact that Hilton has validated it in this way is telling. It's like that Charlie Murphy sketch on "Chappelle's Show" where Rick James essentially confirms everything that's just been skewered. HiDef trailers for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Kings of Summer, The Lords of Salem, and You're Next cue up on spinup.