Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Cinema File #260: "The Bling Ring" Review

Earlier this year, director Harmony Korine unleashed Spring Breakers upon the world, a misguided attempt to bring a pretentious indie sensibility to crass exploitation cinema that in a bygone age might have been a much more entertaining Russ Meyer joint called something like "Bikini Babes, Boobs, and Bullets". The most offensive thing about the film was its stubborn insistence that the trials and tribulations of some of the most vacuous morons ever assembled was somehow the stuff of epic tragedy, so self evidently infused with importance that I must be some sort of philistine to be so bored and annoyed. Once the sole province of dumb comedies like The Hangover movies, the serious minded glorification of insufferable twits now seems to have grown into a genre all its own, so much so that actual half-decent directors are tackling it. And so we have Sophia Coppola's The Bling Ring, regrettably based on a true story that even more regrettably a whole crew of filmmakers thought was worth filming. For a shallow story about shallow people, its done about as well as it probably could be done, but in the end I have to ask, what's the point?

The Bling Ring follows a group of teenage wannabe starfuckers who stumble into a life of the petty-est of petty crime when they realize that the swank LA mansions left empty during the well publicized partying of their owners represent perfect opportunities for burglary. You see, I wanna respect these kids, because I want to take what they did at face value without knowing the details of their lives, so I can imagine that their actions were some populist affront against modern empty headed celebrity culture. The problem is, the movie tells me too much, and so I know that these crimes were not committed out of understandable hatred, but strangely enough out of misplaced love and respect. I just don't want to allow for the possibility that there are people, let alone a somewhat large group of them, who are this unironically enamored with the Paris Hilton school of talentless pop culture elites. The titular Bling Ring doesn't steal from this new class of do-nothing celebs to teach them any sort of lesson, but merely to deck themselves out in their gear to pretend to be more like them. And these people actually exist!

Unlike the aforementioned Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring does at the very least apply the proper tone and approach to its cast of vapid teenage morons, revealing them for the emptiness they both covet and already embody and examining it with an off kilter satirical eye. We get repeated flash forwards as characters are interviewed following the ultimately bad end to their crime spree, as they are shown to have learned nothing even as they affect the false posture of being older and wiser, and throughout its much clearer that these are subjects to be mocked rather than applauded. Unfortunately, we don't get all that much more than that, and any sort of deeper analysis of why these kids are like this, why they value the things they value and how they can be just so lacking in introspection, is never really touched upon. Ordinarily that wouldn't be a problem, except that key moments seem to promise a deeper explanation that never comes, particularly in the quasi-romantic relationship between the two "gang leaders," despite the apparent gender identity issues of one, and the cruel amorality of the other.

The obvious conclusion is that there really isn't anything there once you go deep enough to look for it, which makes the attempt to do so more befuddling than anything. I want to say that I wanted more from all this, but I really don't, and that's the biggest problem with The Bling Ring. Its made with enough style and obvious care to get the point across, but the point is so, well, pointless, and it just seems like a lot of good effort after bad. I suppose that's really Sophia Coppala's raison d'etre, finding stories that don't need to be told and nonetheless telling them very well (that's right Lost In Translation, I'm talking to you!). Maybe its saying something that I care so little about a real life crime spree that technically did effect real people, but then the celebrities in question only just barely count as people, and I can't imagine the effect on their lives was particularly difficult or heartbreaking. Everyone involved in this story from the victims to the wannabes who preyed on them are just so damn superficial that try as it might, the film's attempt to capture it all fails to escape the same level of superficiality. In short, its good for what it is, but what it is just isn't very good.

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