Film review: Not too much luster on this ‘Bling’

Film review: Not too much luster on this ‘Bling’
Emma Watson stars in “The Bling Ring.” Photo by Merrick Morton

Intoxicating visuals and an audacious performance from Emma Watson make “The Bling Ring” an interesting dramatization of a true story, though Sofia Coppola’s failure to address the bigger picture prevents this strange film from realizing its true potential. 

From October 2008 through August 2009, several Hollywood celebrities reported large amounts of money and multiple belongings missing from their homes.

These strange happenings, however, were not due to misplacement. In truth, the celebrities had been burglarized by a group of fame-obsessed teenagers, referred to as the Bling Ring. Armed with only the Internet and a thrill-seeking compulsion, the members continually tracked their targets’ whereabouts and stole whatever appealed to their desires. At the time of their arrests and eventual convictions, these perpetrators had amassed approximately $3 million in cash and stolen property.

Under the direction of Sofia Coppola, “The Bling Ring” cuts between the participants’ interviews, court hearings, burglaries, and partying, placing the viewer at the heart of this bizarre tale of obsession and greed.

One moment these teens are united as one while stealing from their fashion idols, and then the next thing you know, they’re stabbing each other in the back when the law catches up with them. The fact that none of these events are arranged in chronological order creates feelings of discomfort as they get in your face repeatedly, probably because the celebrity-obsessed society depicted on the big screen is not dissimilar to the one we experience every day.

Said partying reflects the film’s disturbing reality, albeit a visually vivid one. It would be accurate to say I almost wanted to lose myself in the nightclub dancing, given its flashy color palette and oddly mesmerizing body language, the latter courtesy of the cast.

These sequences are technically superb and irresistible to the naked eye, and an equally snazzy mixture of hip-hop, rap, and electronic music illuminates their hypnotic impact.

I can admire Coppola’s willingness to want to tell the story of the Hollywood Hills Burglars, but I cannot, in good conscience, condone her film’s insufficient substance. Whatever “The Bling Ring” is trying to say about America’s materialism and celebrity-obsessed culture only gets scratched at, resulting in the bigger picture’s barely visible presence.

Whether this is due to carelessness or ignorance or inability, the director presents these topics and never bothers to delve into them. Even the face value of the expensive objects, dancing sequences, and robberies abate quickly.

While these teens (who, with the exception of their names, are based on real people) are anything but nice and virtuous, I can’t help but wonder how much better they could’ve been had the screenplay infused them with more depth.

Sure, they’re supposed to be superficial, materialistic thrill-seekers, but their collective shallowness is a double-edged sword, depriving them of any reason for us to care about what happens next. Some of the cast members’ motivations for engaging in illegal activities do not receive as much attention as others’ and for those that do get to “explain” themselves, their chance comes too late.

The ringleader, Rebecca, is portrayed by Katie Chang, who exudes a convincing devil-may-care charisma. Israel Broussard delivers an effective performance as Marc, the newcomer that gets mixed up in dirty business with the other ring participants. In contrast, Taissa Farmiga and Claire Julien don’t imbue their characters, Sam and Chloe, respectively, with much personality; they’re simply tagging along for the ride.

As for Emma Watson, whoever thinks she’s still Hermione Granger from the “Harry Potter” movies will be shocked to see her transformation into Nicki. From the moment she steps into view and speaks in a believable valley girl accent, you can actually see her as this artificial, shallow young woman who is unbelievably mean; we have her piercing eyes to thank for that. Much like her character, Watson has no problem taking risks to become what she seeks to attain, and the end result pays off.

When you go to see “The Bling Ring,” don’t go in expecting an insightful commentary on our fixation with celebrities and material objects — you’ll be impressed by Emma Watson and the film’s visual flair, but that’s all you’ll get.

MPAA rating: R for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references.
Running time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Playing: In general release

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