With Katie Chang, Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Rated R for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references. 90 minutes.
It can’t be easy growing up in the shadow of famous parents. Just ask George W. Bush, Paris Jackson, or Jaden Smith. No doubt it was tough for THE BLING RING director Sofia Coppola, especially after her father–director Francis Ford Coppola–cast her in 1990′s “The Godfather, Part III” where she became a target for those who had problems with the film. However, she bounced back as a filmmaker in her own right, and has been quietly amassing an impressive filmography where she seems to be drawn to the theme about living a life of privilege.
To Coppola’s credit, in movies like “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost In Translation,” her stories are not ones where we’re asked to pity the poor little rich girl. Instead, she looks at their lives from the inside out, and lets us see that while being rich is better than being poor, it’s not a guarantee that your life will be any less screwed up. In “The Bling Ring,” she gives us a lightly fictionalized version of a real-life story: a group of posh California girls who commit a series of robberies.
What’s fascinating is that these girls don’t see themselves as doing anything wrong. For them breaking into the homes of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and Lindsay Lohan isn’t theft. It’s going shopping. They consider these celebrities their peers–or at least the people they aspire to hang out with–and breaking into their homes and taking jewelry and clothes is their way of connecting with them. It’s twisted and wrong, of course, but Coppola gets beyond that and shows how these thefts fill up the emptiness in their lives. They don’t feel contempt for their victims. To the contrary, they admire them and wearing their stolen goods is a kind of bonding.
Coppola has a knack for finding young actresses who can personify her concerns from Kirsten Dunst in “The Virgin Suicides” and “Marie Antoinette” to Scarlett Johansson in “Lost in Translation.” Here, she’s got a fine cast headed up by Katie Chang and Emma Watson. Chang plays Rebecca, the queen bee of the gang. She depicts the poison of a life of privilege when it all starts crumbling and she doesn’t see herself as in any way responsible.
Watson’s performance is the real revelation here. After eight movies as Hermoine in the “Harry Potter” series this young actress seems to be determined to find roles that will showcase her acting and stretch her talent, such as her wonderful turn in last year’s “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” and her hilarious cameo in the current “This Is The End.” Here she plays Nicki as a politician-in-waiting. Whatever happens, she’s all spin and positioning, ready to change with the circumstances. It’s a performance that makes you eager to see what she will do next.
Coppola has taken some hits for this film, undeservedly so, but it is fair to say that she has yet to equal her “Lost In Translation.” It’s also fair to note that while “The Bling Ring” doesn’t quite hit the heights, it is an engaging film. It shows a director who has found her subject matter and is still figuring out what she wants to do with it. It’s a process, and Coppola makes it one that it is worthwhile for us to follow.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.