Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Swing and a Miss - The Bling Ring Review

Directed By: Sofia Coppola

Sofia, Sofia, Sofia. What have you done?

As you can see from my previous posts, I was extremely excited to see the Bling Ring. However, I am rather disappointed by this film, a film that had so much promise. Sofia Coppola is a personal hero of mine and someone I have come to love and respect as a filmmaker. The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette are some of my favorite films and just a few examples of Coppola's great work. They are masterpieces that speak to to all young women growing up in the modern world. She has a knack for creating incredibly well made films that prove Hollywood has an obligation to promote talented female filmmakers. But unfortunately the Bling Ring stands out as less than what I have come to expect from Coppola.

I don't think I have to do a synopsis of the film because the story is directly lifted from Nancy Jo Sale's Vanity Fair article, "The Suspects Wore Louboutins," with very little originality on the part of Coppola. You can also check out my trailer review below. While an incredible story full of young love, fashion, fame, drugs and criminal behavior, the film did not live up to the compelling tale of these teenagers. I was expecting a deeper look into the psyche of the characters, and their motivations for breaking into the homes of the rich and famous. Instead, what I got was a disjointed montage of events without any real story development or nuance. I love non-linear storytelling, but this film felt confused, like it was tripping over itself.

I was also rather unimpressed with Emma Watson, who was the biggest draw for this film. I love Emma Watson, I have seen all of her films and she truly is a great actress. Unfortunately, her performance in this film is flat out cringe-worthy. As much as it pains me to say that, it's true.

The biggest problem was clearly the accent, which was an easy fix. Watson has done an American accent quite well in the past, (see Perks of Being a Wallflower) yet in this film she tried to make her accent distinctly California which was a huge mistake. Your average California accent is subtle even to American ears, and I think she took it way too far, to the point of distraction. It was a caricature of a California accent which may have worked in a comedy, but it didn't fit with the serious tone of this film. Whoever coached Watson on her accent should be tar and feathered and Coppola should have had the fortitude to tell her to reel it in. Her scenes were almost unwatchable.

Aside from the non-existent story and Waton's poor performance, the biggest flaw in the film is the fact that several scenes felt arduous and out of place. The best example is when protagonist Marc, (Israel Broussard) sits in front of his computer smoking a joint and singing along to some Top 40 song. The scene goes on for what feels like forever and gives no insight to his character. It's just three solid minutes (but feels like twenty minutes) of some kid checking himself out on Photo Booth. As I was sitting in the theater I thought to myself, "what the fuck is going on? We get it, he's gaining a vain sense of self-worth, move on already!"

To be fair, I thought Broussard did a great job considering the obstacles. Overall, I would say he gave the best performance, but that isn't saying much. He was perhaps a bit stiff and not as comfortable in front of the camera as some of the other actors, but he was genuine and believable as a young man desperate for belonging.

The other actors in the film were not necessarily bad, but such young actors needed a strong mentor and I don't think Coppola delivered. She didn't coach these kids to fit her vision, because in the end, the characters were not hers, they were Nancy Jo Sales's. Coppola failed to make the characters her own and the performance of all her young actors failed because of it. All of the actors, with the exception of Watson, are completely forgettable, even as I was watching the film I was unable to keep up with who was whom. I didn't find myself connecting or even caring about the characters, which is quite a triumph considering I am a community art teacher who deeply sympathizes with the struggles and emptiness of contemporary youth culture.

I don't want to give the impression that everything in this film is bad, because there are things to like, even love, about it. The camera work and overall cinematography was really impressive and kept the film interesting in ways the story did not.

I loved that the camera was placed close to the characters, right in their space which gave an intimate feeling. A great example is when Nicki (Emma Watson) and Marc along with a few other members of their gang are hanging out in a small bedroom. The camera is pressed up against the wall yet still gives the feeling of depth in a space so cramped the characters are bumping into each other. The frames are tight, and there is almost no emphasis on what is happening in the background. The only exception is when the camera focused on celebrities. This subtle camera work gave the impression that the characters were living in their own world and had little interest in what was happening around them unless it dealt directly with their famous obsessions.

I also loved the texture of the film. One would expect to see a glossy Hollywood vainer, but this was grainy, stoic and quiet. There are many of shots of the characters going about their business with out any audible interruption. There are fewer cuts than one would expect and the camera tends to linger to the point of being uncomfortable, which I thought worked in many scenes, but not all.

My favorite shot in the film is a stunning aerial shot of Audrina Patridge's modern home. The house stands on a hill overlooking downtown Los Angeles at night. The shot is static, and uses heavy black space in an interesting way. Inside the house we can see the teens raiding the house through the large windows.  While the shot is long, and the figures are small, their movements stand out in the inky blackness. It is a simple, beautiful shot that almost made me like this film.

I will also admit that I was interested in seeing the inside of Paris Hilton's house. So sue me. It was sort of wild seeing that her vapid persona was not just a persona after all. I'm not sure what Coppola had to do to get in to Hilton's home, but a large part of me thinks that she had to compromise her script in order to get the infamous celebrity at the center of the crimes to sign on. Produced by Sofia and her brother Roman Coppola, the film is firmly placed in the indie category. However, it has the unmistakable signature of script bastardization.

That is the crux of the problem with this film. It feels compromised, as if there was a bigger, more ambitious idea, but was watered down somewhere along the way. I felt my self trying to find deeper meaning, but it simply wasn't there. The film had everything it needed to be great. An talented female director, an interesting cast, a talented camera and design crew, an incredibly riveting story, but in the end it didn't come together.

Overall, the film felt rushed, I think Coppola should have spent another 6 months working on it and focused on getting a great performance out of her actors. It is a film worth seeing if the story of the Burglar Bunch was of any interest to you, but if you're going to see great cinema, pack a pillow.

C - : No plot, bad acting. Plays like a 2 hour trailer. It feels rushed and unfinished. The camera work is nice, and the fashion is worth checking out. Emma Watson is lovely to look at as always, but overall, this film is a confusing jumble of awkward scenes that didn't come together cohesively. Not Coppola's best.