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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.23.13] comedy thriller drama biopic

I have to admit that I went into Sophia Coppola's new film fully intending to hate every minute of it and actually looking forward to flagellating myself in my own seat while watching the cinematic equivalent of a toddler's tantrum in Prada. For better or worse I have to admit that the film isn't quite that bad, and although the characters portrayed are simple minded and reprehensible brats, obsessed with draping themselves in gaudy designer clothes while snorting endless lines of cocaine and braying insincere bullshit at one another, Coppola manages to somehow make it just about work. The key, I suspect, is that it's quite funny, has moments of genuine tension and suspense, and is neither too glib nor too serious.

It is a relief that the film is told primarily through the eyes of Marc, (Israel Broussard) who is by far the most self-aware and morally centered character and the only male in the group. His conversations with his therapist punctuate a story told in flashbacks, and he reflects on events with a philosophical sense of sadness and wonder, while explaining the reasoning behind the groups decisions, which basically amount to, 'Well, why not?' It's difficult to sympathize with any of the characters, of course, considering the sheer stupidity of their actions, but Marc manages to elicit some empathy with his unassuming nature and low self-esteem, only beginning to feel part of something real once he started to make friends with these girls. If you're not aware already the film is based on the true story of a group of teenagers who illegally entered the L.A. homes of various celebrities after tracking their movements on showbiz websites, and stealing money, clothes and alcohol. After getting caught (the film suggests through the use of Facebook to brag about their exploits) they were tried and convicted of burglary, serving short spells in prison. They are now all (apparently) quite famous and some have gone on to have the careers they probably fantasized about as they crept through Orlando Bloom's mansion. Marc at least has the sense of mind to confess his bewilderment at all of this and compares it to, "America's sick fascination with Bonnie and Clyde."

The film does not resolutely condemn their actions however, but in fact revels in the excitement they experience when they realize how effortlessly they can gain access to the homes of the rich and famous, and the feeling rubs off on us as it is thrilling to watch their adventures; the discovery of Paris Hilton's shoe closet, her 'nightclub room' and the endless framed magazine covers that adorn her walls (she even has her image imposed onto the upholstery).

There's one scene where they almost get caught breaking into Lindsay Lohan's house and have to hide in a shrub. Coppola obviously knows how to create a sense of tension, and some of these scenes are funny and suspenseful in equal measure, such as one unbroken, static long-shot of the gang entering a glass-fronted house, robbing it for anything worth taking, and then disappearing into the darkness. That one shot reminded me of early De Palma, played-out as it is without any dialogue or music as if we're complicit in the activities but safely watching from afar.

The humor comes from observing the effect that the sudden wealth of material possessions have on the personalities of the group, as they show off their new gear in nightclubs and fight over the latest discovery in the hallowed closets of whoever they're stealing from next.

Leslie Mann steals her scenes as Nicki's (Emma Watson) mother, a bubble-headed new-ager who home schools her daughter in celebrity culture ("What can we learn from Angelina Jolie today?") and although the film is never as subversive or caustic as it might have been in the hands of a director less enamored with Hollywood, or even just one who didn't grow-up surrounded by it as Coppola has, there are moments which prove that the writer was aware of just how silly it all is and isn't above making fun of the characters. Coppola simply uses a light touch of sarcasm here and there, where a sledgehammer might have provided more belly-laughs a la 'Zoolander'.

Emma Watson is also on great form here as the profoundly unlikable Nicki, who winds-up using what should surely be overwhelmingly negative publicity to her advantage and making use of all those celebrity themed school lessons to create a charitable persona for herself. Despite everything one almost feels that her character deserves the last laugh and Watson is perfect in the role.

For a film that I wanted to hate, so much in fact that I kept cackling with laughter at the mere thought of it, I didn't hate 'The Bling Ring' at all. Sure it's about a bunch of privileged and selfish little amoebas bouncing around L.A. wearing designer sunglasses and farting through their mouths, but it could have been much worse (think 'The Brats' films, or whatever they're called) and in the hands of Copplola it's a passable piece of fluffy fun, which I'd probably watch again.

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