What Hell Hath Paris Wrought? “The Bling Ring” Review Jun18

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What Hell Hath Paris Wrought? “The Bling Ring” Review

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Years ago, I was privy to a certain network screening of a new “reality” show that thankfully never made it to air. The production only reached the pilot stage on the promise that Paris Hilton would occasionally guest star as an auxiliary personality, showing up just enough to warrant her presence in the marketing campaign.

While the rest of the cast struggled to find even a vague semblance of believability, Hilton was a composed veteran. The caricature she’d created was so polished that everyone around her seemed laughable by comparison. In their defense, the premise, situations and relationships were absurd to begin with.

Having spent very little attention on Ms. Hilton, I had naively chalked her up to another entry in the fame-whore, celebrity-for-the-sake-of-celebrity ethos. What I rather quickly realized during that dreadful screening is that not only is she adeptly playing a part, but she keeps an ironic distance from it.

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So too does Sofia Coppola in her new film The Bling Ring, based on a highly publicized group of teenagers that burglarized a series of celebrity homes in 2008. That Paris shows up briefly and allows herself to be satirized via her home, furthers my assertion that she’s been playing her part with a wink the whole time.

The characters in The Bling Ring have yet to pick up on the wink. They’re consumed by the vapid Los Angeles culture of dance clubs, fancy cars, designer fashion and mountains of narcotics. It doesn’t help that their parents, seen sparingly, are self-absorbed creatures unto themselves. These kids come and go as they please, with whomever they want, with little to no interrogation. What do you expect?

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Emma Watson plays Nicki, a wannabe disciple of Paris, who’s mother home schools her and her sister based on the teachings of The Secret. She starts every morning with a prescribed dose of Adderall and rolls her eyes through self-help inspired lessons about being the best you.

Though I assume this setup is penned by Coppolla as an addendum to the real events, I loved the skewering of ridiculous liberal religions. It’s so apropos of the “universe wants me to be successful” milieu that cultivates and justifies behavior like this.

Nicki’s friends with Rebecca, a star-struck kleptomaniac who’s transfixed by the rush of thievery and the short term riches it facilitates. Both Rebecca and Marc, the new kid in town, attend a school dedicated to students with behavioral issues – she substance abuse, he anxiety-induced attendance issues brought on by a disappointment in his aesthetic worth.

Rebecca talks Marc into breaking into Paris Hilton’s house as a lark, which he reluctantly agrees to. Thanks to the help of Google and blogs like Perez Hilton, the two soon find themselves trespassing on any celebrity’s home they know to be out of town that night. What started out as a whim of adventure, turns into the means of securing a lifestyle they’ve long envied but couldn’t create.

It’s here where the movie loses much of its steam. It meanders through too many break-in sequences, repeating the same party scene and shopping spree. It becomes fairly clear by the middle that The Bling Ring lacks a strong narrative structure. It’s almost as if there wasn’t enough material to reach feature length so Coppola fills that dearth with mood, mood and more mood.

This is a reoccurring element of Coppola’s work – of which, I’m an admirer. I adore Lost in Translation but I freely admit there’s very little story. I would argue that in the case of Translation, lengthy divergences into the Japanese nightlife compliment the picture. Here it feels like padding.

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Fortunately, once the gang is caught, the film finds its footing again and delivers a note-perfect resolution in the character of Nicki, and the performance of Emma Watson. The only lesson learned is how to turn her newfound celebrity status as a criminal into a “reality” star career by manipulating an eager media.

My other qualm with The Bling Ring is the way in which Marc, the only sympathetic character, breaks the tonal fourth wall by solidifying the message via voice narration. His on-the-nose pontification robs the audience of its ability to put it together themselves. We get it, we don’t need it spelled out.

That being said, given its flaws, The Bling Ring is a worthy criticism of celebrity culture and all the superficial importance that comes with it.

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