Jonathan Andrew Sheen (leviathan0999) wrote,
Jonathan Andrew Sheen

My review of "The Bling Ring"

 Director Sophia Coppola opens brilliantly, with the pre-movie production company logos not over musical or sound effects stings, but natural nocturnal sounds of Los Angeles. Then, with a bang, see our young burglars getting into a property with childish ease, climbing over a waist-height fence, and we're in amongst them, courtesy of a handheld camera that reminded me of the opening "robbery" sequence of Katherine Bigelow's under-appreciated classic, "Strange Days." We don't stand back to watch this bizarre B&E shopping spree from an ironic distance -- we're a part of it, running into the house and practically diving into the cheap opulence like Scrooge McDuck swimming in his coin vaults in the old cartoons.

We're then quickly introduced to the satirical engine that drives the movie, Emma Watson's "Nicki Moore," in the clip you've seen if you're interested in this movie, addressing the press after some sort of court hearing: An insanely entertaining, vapid, self-aggrandizing speech in which she ends, eyebrows peeping above her expensive sunglasses in a pose of such studied insouciance that it must have taken her days to get it down, "I wanna lead a country one day for all I know!"

Okay, anybody reading this knows I'm a pathetic Emma Watson fanboy. You think I'm biased, I'm not gonna argue. But she is by far the best thing in this movie. Her Nicki is such a stunning, virtuoso performance of hilarious vacuous self-promotion. Nicki's only belief is that she should be famous, and people should admire and envy her. She says and does nothing that isn't laser-guided at that goal of someday achieving the cheap, gimcrack fame of any of the Bling Ring's victims. She's not on screen all the time, and is not the driver nor the ringleader of the plot, but her amazing, shallow, monstrous character brings a charge pretty much whenever she's onscreen. Major awards have been given for far worse performances.

The movie is structured to rest on the shoulders of Israel Broussard as Marc, a shy teen whose sexuality seems undefined, and whose self-worth is at an all-time low as the movie begins. He's the new kid at a new school -- apparently a "bottom rung" school for troublemakers and losers -- and, if he feels like his schoolmates are pointing at him, snickering and judging, it's because they are. So when Katie Chang's Becca befriends him, the power she wields over him is awesome and immediately understandable. She is a lifeline, and he's been drowning. We realize only slowly what he can't allow himself to understand: That she's using him, quite callously, manipulating him with acceptance, words of affection and the promise that he can become part of the community of worthless celebrity that is all these young people value: Fame for fame's sake, and no more depth than is offered on E! TV. Her final, coldly calculated betrayal of him, not even acknowledging his existence, is really painful.

Copolla's direction starts with a bang, as I said above, but it's sometimes strangely flaccid. We spend longer unengagedly watching these kids frolic in the homes of the TMZ crowd than their own minuscule attention spans would tolerate, and in the end, you feel like the movie would have benefited from considerable tightening in spots. I think it could have been as much as fifteen minutes shorter with only improvement to its impact and artistry.

While there are slam-bang set-pieces -- the robbery by Broussard and Chang of a mostly-glass house (Audrina Patridge's in the film, though I doubt it's really hers) shot entirely from outside and up a hill, the camera very, very slowly zooming in, is nothing short of masterful -- the movie isn't taut or focused enough, in the end, to really satisfy. 

While it's Marc's movie, we're left with the image of Nicki, milking her notoriety for every last drop of cheap publicity she can, and in the end, while he's anonymously sitting in the back of a prison bus in an orange jumpsuit, we can only contemplate with awe her voracious hunger for attention, more gravitational than nutritional. She's a black hole of self-regard that no amount of attention, and no power of encounter with reality, can ever fill.

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