** (out of four)
Part of the triumph of “Spring Breakers,” the current, unexpected holder of the title “best movie of the year so far,” was its lack of judgment. Its characters engaged in all kinds of over-the-top behavior, but writer-director Harmony Korine never seemed to scold, “Shame on these girls, on society and on you for watching!”
With the shallow “The Bling Ring,” writer-director Sofia Coppola often sneers at how obnoxious her characters are, and her sarcasm makes the subjects too easy to dismiss. When the movie is funny, it’s mega-ironic, underlined and in capital letters. Nicki (Emma Watson), for example, acts as if she cares about humanitarian causes but archly and transparently can’t distinguish one African country from another. With an emphasis on the “As If.”
The movie is based on the true story of a glamorous group of L.A.-area teenagers who treat the world, and specifically the houses of Hollywood and society’s elite, as their own personal closet. It’s a hell of a headline but ultimately not much of a movie. Coppola perpetuates vapidity instead of processing it.
“Let’s go shopping,” utters Rebecca (breakout Katie Chang of Winnetka) as she leads her crew through an unlocked sliding door and into an astonishing collection of shoes/purses/hats/cash. They’re owned by paparazzi fodder whom Rebecca and her friends assume won’t notice or care about a few missing items. The thieves make no distinction between robbing Megan Fox or Rachel Bilson or Paris Hilton or Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr.
The point, with a particular dream of hitting the casa de Lohan, is to literally steal the style of the rich and famous. On screen, it looks more like killing your idols (hence the use of Sleigh Bells’ “Crown on the Ground”) than honoring them, though Rebecca does seek to attend the Fashion Institute of Design because it’s where “The Hills” girls went.
Some may find “The Bling Ring” fascinating (fashionating?) in an, “Oh, no they di-in’t” way. The problem is Coppola, who unraveled Hollywood detachment far better with “Somewhere,” but here doesn’t break through the glitz to a new level of understanding about image and celebrity. The characters have almost no trajectory, and the filmmaker’s cultural analysis involves characters bluntly depicting their cluelessness, such as when the gals sing to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls.”
They also speculate broadly about motive, such as when Marc (Israel Broussard) claims that Rebecca merely wants the lifestyle that everyone wants. Nicki’s mom (Leslie Mann), who Coppola looks down upon whenever possible, asks her kids to model themselves after a good example like Angelina Jolie, but the girls only make note of the star’s fiance and “hot bod.”
Chang subtly embodies the confidence of a girl who makes others feel special just by paying attention to them. There’s clearly merit in questioning how the drooling, fashion-focused entertainment media encourages young celebutantes-in-training to envy social status and selfishly shrug off the DUIs that their idols seem to treat so cavalierly. Yet that requires a curious, objective examination into that world, not a sneering portrait that sacrifices analysis for eye rolls.
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