Cannes Review: The Bling Ring

Fred Topel calls Sofia Coppola's Bling Ring "a fun ride in a train wreck sort of way."

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

After all that build-up, maybe there was no way The Bling Ring could totally live up to the hype, but I still liked it. Not only is it the first American movie with established stars and filmmakers to debut at Cannes this year (The Great Gatsby played out of competition after opening in the States), but this morning’s press screening was so full that most of the press didn’t even get in. After staking out a spot two hours before the evening screening, I was let into the theater expecting to have my mind blown, but it was only warmed up.

Rebecca (Katie Chang) leads a group of her friends to rob celebrities’ houses while they’re out of town at publicity events. With Nicki (Emma Watson), Chloe (Claire Julien), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Marc (Israel Broussard), they hit the homes of Paris Hilton, Audrina Patrige and Orlando Bloom, trying on their clothes and jewelry, picking choice goods to keep, and getting into their stash of drugs.

What’s interesting about these robberies is how casually they’re treated. This is just something the girls do on a weeknight. They find the celebrities’ address online, because I guess there’s no way for a celebrity to hide where they live, kind of like Tony Stark. It’s not even a heist. The houses are really easy to get into, and nobody seems to have an alarm system. That may make sense for certain folks with pets. You can’t arm the alarm with a dog running around the house, but it’s reassuring to know that some stars at least have security crews monitoring the activity in their home.

It’s established immediately that these girls worship celebrities. They name drop Lindsay Lohan and Jude Law, but we get some actual cameos by friends of director Sofia Coppola and socialites who have no qualms about appearing in a film about celebrity worship. They probably thought it was good PR, affirming their rights to privacy and not being robbed and stuff.

The film has a good portrayal of the social media culture in a way that shows the filmmakers understand it without making a big show of it. The girls are on their phones in a nightclub, and taking those familiar self-portraits the likes of which you’d see on their Facebook page. It’s just part of the scene, not a scene about cell phones and cameras. There’s a montage of posting photos to Facbeook showing cinema has finally caught up to technology. Not too long ago they were still showing chat sessions with actors speaking the lines they’re typing. Now several filmmakers, Coppola included, trust that we understand the dominant communication tool of our generation so they can use the tools of cinema to illustrate it.

When Rebecca and her crew hit the houses, it’s not a wild, raucous adrenaline rush like some audiences might be expecting just by the subject matter. It’s rather calm and mellow. The camera is very controlled during the robberies, more like shopping sprees, which is the point. Chloe plays with a gun, which is unsettling for how casual her irresponsibility is, and only Marc has anything to say about it. Marc is the only one who panics in each house, thus providing a casual sort of ticking clock since nobody listens to him anyway. I suppose some of the characters do take pause after a close call, and those moments are played with more of the trademark Sofia Coppola stillness, just letting a scene play out until the point is made.

And they do drugs. This is Sofia Coppola’s cocaine movie, which is still a lot calmer than Scorsese’s cocaine movie, let alone even more intense ones. I don’t even know that it affects them that much since they were already making bad decisions, but I guess they were never sober. They just upgraded to the high-end blow. It’s just interesting to note the way different filmmakers portray drugs and crime.

I suppose this is all supposed to be a commentary on our celebrity culture, but that’s where I don’t really see much more than an account of specific incidents. It seems like these are characters who were always going to get into trouble. If it weren’t celebrity houses, they would have found something else. They’re privileged and seem determined to rebel against good behavior. So that sort of personality may be drawn to images of celebrity parties but I don’t see a causality or even mild correlation. It’s more a compatibility of two destructive phenomena.

Still, it’s a fun ride in a train wreck sort of way, and who wouldn’t want to see a train wreck beautifully composed and photographed by Sofia Coppola? 



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Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Shelf Space Weekly. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.