With its catchy title and cast including Emma Watson, one might have expected this to be Sofia Coppola’s attempt to go a bit mainstream. The posters and trailers may have helped this presumption, but the actual film is something very different. It’s a lot more Coppola-esque (and I’m talking Sofia-esque here, though daddy Francis did executive produce) and works to a style and rhythm that some may describe as ‘arthouse’.
Her last feature, Somewhere (which I loved), was a sparse and calm study of a daughter/father relationship and how fame can influence it. This movie, which features a little more dramatic meat, also examines the way fame affects relationships, though this time Coppola starts on the outside and works her way in. At first her protagonists (played by played by Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Claire Julien and Taissa Farmiga), a group of teens who break in and steal expensive articles from the houses of the rich and famous, are part of mundane ordinary life. Their crimes, however, make them celebrities – they become the things that they wanted to steal from. It’s an interesting concept and an interesting case (the movie is based on a Vanity Fair article about the real-life thieves).
Sofia handles the content with a calm and often detached eye, with cinematographers Chris Blauvelt and the late Harris Savides, who died last autumn, shooting it all with a documentary-feel, using a healthy amount of webcam-shot activity and cinema vérité. Instead of feeling tact-on and fake, these methods actually plants us into the lives of these teenagers without letting them adopt some of the glamour their victims have acquired throughout their careers.
A lot of fuss has been made about Emma Watson’s role in the movie. She’s good in it, and very funny at times, though she isn’t the main star here. I’d say the standout performance comes from Israel Broussard as a guy who gets sucked into a life of crime when the group’s ringleader (also excellently played by Katie Chang) is nice to him on his first day at a new school. He is the film’s token tainted angel – a good soul turned bad. And his transformation is as mesmerising as it is devastating. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Mr Broussard in the future.
Some will find the pace of the film too clunky or repetitive, and that may well be a fair criticism, but much of The Bling Ring works terrifically well and it’s my hope audiences will not be put off by its more experimental attributes. This is far from the trashy popcorn flick it could have been. As she has done a number of times in her career, Coppola has taken already interesting material and given it a fresh and fascinating reworking for the big screen.
The Bling Ring (2013), directed by Sofia Coppola, is released in cinemas in the UK by StudioCanal, Certificate 15. Watch the trailer below!