Friday, 5 July 2013

The Bling Ring (15)

The sun is shining. Summer has arrived and the obvious thing to do would be sit in the garden and wait for the tennis to start.

So naturally I head to the cinema.

Normally I'd be taking the first option, but I've got stuff to do so grabbing a screening of The Bling Ring at half eleven in the morning does actually make sense. As long as you don't think about it too much. And anyway, nice day for a drive...

For those unaware of what The Bling Ring has to offer (and Emma Watson dancing in a nightclub, there's not been much in the way of hype - Paris Hilton would not approve), it tells the tale of a gang of teenagers who decide a profitable use of their spare time is tracking down the empty homes of celebrities and "burglarising" them. Not a word we needed, America, but there we go.

The film is "based on the Vanity Fair article The Suspects Wore Louboutins" (dunno, shoes probably) and "real events". Not sure which real events have been added, but Nancy Jo Sales' article is pretty much the whole film.

And that's all you can really say about The Bling Ring. It happened. Both the film and the actual burglaries. The 'why' of either is something to be discussed at a later date.

As with all Sofia Coppola films, The Bling Ring is not fast-paced, but it does look nice. And LA looks nice. We know this because we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time looking at it when moving the story along would have been more appreciated. One can only surmise that some serious padding was needed to hit the 90 minute mark, because we spend at least a third of the film watching the teenage gang driving, partying, taking drugs and sitting around talking crap.

And by crap, I mean both the subject matter and use of English. And when I say padding, Sofia manages to make a short film feel twice as long.

Now, I know it's been some time since I was 19, but my memory of teenagers isn't that we sat around barely able to string a sentence together. These are supposedly intelligent people, yet they struggle to be monosyllabic. (There's a drinking game to be played when this comes out on DVD - every time a character says "wow", "my God" or "bitches", drink a shot. You'll have passed out before the film ends).

But it's not all bad. As I say, it looks good. And the performances, assuming they are aiming to portray six vacuous narcissists, are spot on. Emma Watson (on whom the film is kinda being hung, which causes its own problems) does a fine job stepping out of Hermione Granger's shadow, while newcomer Katie Chang leads the cast well. Israel Broussard, another newbie, is also fine. He looks a little confused, but then he's not the only one.

You see, the main problem with The Bling Ring is it actually has nothing to say.

A group of teenagers decided to go on the rob, but we are offered no reason as to why. Rebecca's obsession with Lyndsey Lohan is mentioned a few times, but that's about it. No hints at bad parenting, disaffection with society, none of that - they just did it.

Alternatively, we're saying some celebrities are so stupid as to leave their door keys under the mat (I'm guessing that bit isn't a real event, but it's Paris Hilton so let's not make assumptions). If that's true, sympathy's going to be hard to drum up.

Alternatively, there's an issue in these modern times with privacy. If a bunch of teenagers can use the interweb to track celebrities movements, find the relevant address, scope the place using Google Maps (other global satellite mapping systems are available - probably), pop round in one stolen car, leave in another, and not raise much in the way of an eyebrow, then are we not being a tad too open? Is there not a chat to be had about what can and can't be made available? Yes, clearly, but not here. Not in The Bling Ring.

And even if you ignore the fact this film does not answer any of those questions. Even if you let it get away with not actually bothering to ask those very questions and just watch it as a straight re-telling of a story, it hits problems.

Chang's Rebecca is the ringleader here. She's got Broussard's Marc wrapped around her finger. Everyone else just seems to happy to follow. That's fine. So why, in the final act, do we focus entirely on Watson's Nicki? Why, in fact, once the cops have finally caught up with them, do we ignore everyone apart from Nicki and Marc? The problem has got to be in the script.

In the real world, Alexis Neiers ("television personality, aspiring model and convicted felon", according to Google) is the one attributed with being the ring leader, and yet from what I've read it would seem Watson's character comes closest to being her. It's as if someone decided to not say Neiers did all those things she denies doing (I'm NOT suggesting for legal reasons, let's be clear about that, eh?), and pinned the blame on someone else - but forgot what was happening with the ending.

Further research also reveals the investigating officer got in to hot water with his bosses when he started working on The Bling Ring before the gang got to trial, with a clash of interests being not unreasonably cited. This would add weight to a possible theory that things had to get hastily re-written somewhere...

So, it's upset one of the Bling Ringers and Lohan (but not Hilton, who despite having her self-portrait cushions held up for ridicule is happy to appear in the film - 'nuf said), it doesn't hold anyone or anything to account, holds no shocks or surprises (the car crash is not so much flagged up as given its own parade) and will rob you of a sunny day in the garden during the next week.

So why go see it?

Well, for Watson, really, who is in fine form. And as a piece of cultural record - these things did happen, even if it wasn't exactly like this. And because if you watch it the cinema, you won't be tempted to try the drinking game. Oh, and rock star Gavin Rossdale provides a genuine laugh-out-loud moment. He doesn't mean to, but the dialogue is so badly written it's a wonderful comic interlude.

But also to spark your interest. Behind all the things Sofia isn't saying is a strangely compelling story that continues to rumble on. Those that stole from celebrities have now gained the status they took advantage of, which if irony and karma are on duty, is something they'll come to regret when the copycats come calling.

In her blog (which is well worth a read), Neiers claims no one knows the real story about the Bling Ringers. Well, if nothing else can be said about the film, that much is certainly true.

(Oh, and as she berates celebrity obsession, the first comment posted asks her if she's going to the premiere. You've got to laugh...)

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