BY CARMELA FERRO, EMILY GAGNE, ASHLEY KOWALEWSKI AND MICHELLE MEDFORD
If you’ve been following us on social media, you’d know that the Cinefilles have been pumped for The Bling Ring since its teaser trailer was released. Last week, four filles headed out to an advance screening of the Sofia Coppola flick based on the real life Bling Ring and their infamous Hollywood burglaries.
A: Having read the original Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales, I think it’s safe to say that Coppola did a really solid job portraying not only the story, what the suspects said and how they acted under scrutiny for the whole ordeal, but also just generally of celeb-obsessed culture we live in today (not to mention hitting the Beverly Hills rich bitch mentality on the nose–of course, I’m generalizing here). Sure, there were a few aspects that were no doubt changed for cinematic value and to shorten the whole process of the hearings, but considering Coppola went based off of Sales’ article (which in turn inspired her book The Bling Ring where she profiled the entire incident in detail), where it mattered, Coppola had the details down to a science. Even so much as having some scenes filmed in Paris Hilton’s house, where a lot of the stealing took place. Oh, and we can’t forget the infamous lines stated by Alexis Neiers, one of the girls involved, perfectly executed by Emma Watson in the flick: “I’m a firm believer in Karma and I think this situation was attracted into my life because it was supposed to be a huge learning lesson for me to grow and expand as a spiritual human being. I see myself being like an Angelina Jolie.” Can’t argue with that.
M: I feel like Coppola took Sales’ article as more of inspiration than basis. Coppola’s version of the story is highly Hollywood-ized. Although Sales’ book wasn’t out yet and Coppola didn’t have access to a great deal of details, several significant details from the article were overlooked or changed. I’m not trying to be nitpicky here, but the article just didn’t paint the same picture. For example, Rachel Lee (the supposed leader of the real Bling Ring) took a crap in Rachel Bilson’s house while they were burglarizing the place, which would have made for a hilarious scene in the movie, but I can only guess was taken out because it doesn’t fit with our idea of a spoiled, affluent Hollywood kids. There’s also the whole race thing–Mexican girl Diana Tamayo was completely taken out of the story (fun detail: she was the student body president) while Korean Rachel Lee was clearly half white. Although Alexis (Emma Watson’s Nicki) did live with her BFF Tess (Taissa Farmiga’s Sam), Tess wasn’t home schooled. During the Orlando Bloom robbery, Alexis was also supposedly kicked out of her house for smoking OxyContin, so she lived with Nick (Israel Broussard’s Marc) for a while. Alexis was also a “former hip-hop and pole-dancing instructor” according to the article. But I guess these details don’t fit in with our stereotype of the upper-class, white family living in LA.
I get that as a filmmaker, Coppola was trying to create a specific type of product. What I don’t appreciate is the whole “true story” angle, because it’s not really the true story. It’s more like “sort of based on a true story but changed to make itself more marketable.”
E: Even if you’re not a huge fan of Sofia Coppola’s movies, you have to give her and returning music supervisor Brian Reitzell kudos for their mad soundtrack picking skills. They always seem to find the perfect tracks to fit the mood of her films, even sacrificing era realism to do so.
In the cases of Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Suicides — films set in the 1700s and 1970s, receptively — that reckless, no-time-period-specific philosophy worked extremely well. In fact, you could argue that the soundtracks surpass the films. That’s certainly the case for Marie, an otherwise frothy biopic that suddenly becomes epic when a sprawling New Order or Siouxsie and the Banshees song begins playing in the background (hell, the teaser trailer sold me strictly on the use of New Order’s “Age of Consent”). Meanwhile, the tragically beautiful Virgin Suicides, a flick based on the grossly gorgeous book of the same name by Jeffrey Eugenides, is as elevated by the inclusion of a new Air track (“Playground Love” forever, please), as it is 70s soft rock classics from Carole King and Gilbert O’Sullivan.
I wish I felt the same about the Bling Ring soundtrack, which proved to be the most distracting part of a pretty damn flashy flick. Although most of the individual tracks are awesome, really capturing the Cali carelessness and cutesy capitalism of the main characters (M.I.A’s “Bad Girls” and Sleigh Bells’ “Crown on the Ground” are standouts), I was really taken out of the movie every time a song that definitely wasn’t released at time the events were supposed to be occurring was featured. For example, Azealia Banks’ “212” didn’t hit the charts until 2011, two years after the Bling Ring attacks rocked the Hollywood Hills, and yet, it was chosen to set a specific club scene. I’d have no problem with the choice if it was artistic, as the use of Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” is in the closing credits, but it was supposed to be featured organically, as if chosen by the DJ. Maybe I’m just being nitpicky, but it was a “Marie Antoinette’s wearing Chuck Taylors?!” moment for me, only redeemed by Israel Broussard’s Marc singing “Drop It Low” (Ester Dean ft. Chris Brown) in front of a web cam, something Marc’s real-life inspiration Nick Prugo actually did.
C: Em really hits all the right notes when she says Coppola makes some stellar music picks despite sacrificing era realism. If you can get over the fact that many of the songs in the film don’t exactly match up to the real-life timeline they sure do set the scene for self-entitled, over-indulgent, Hollywood-robbing teenage romps. The tunes really help paint the picture of the high life, whether you’re legitimately living it or not. The soundtrack rounds out with some solid house beats, sweet flowing hip hop and some awesome indie sounds. We bounce from Avicci, Deadmau5 and Bassnectar to Kanye, Rick Ross, Azealia Banks and MIA and then over to some Sleigh Bells and Phoenix. (Totally necessary because they are awesome and Sofia is married to band member Thomas Mars.)
The soundtrack all-around is the perfect party playlist and would strongly compliment cruising around sunny California, chilling on the beach, shopping on Rodeo, a night out dancing, bottle service at a club, smoking joints, breaking into houses, stealing expensive shit from famous people who don’t lock their doors… errr maybe I’ll just stick to keeping it an awesome party playlist.
C: This film has a great blend of familiar and fresh new faces. Leslie Mann and Emma Watson are the most notable actors, playing a mother-daughter duo with a light passive-aggressive relationship. Their relationship is humorous and also deeply concerning, but Leslie and Emma go to crazy-fun places and it works very well. I was extremely pleased with Taissa Farmiga (Vera Farmiga’s younger sister) who really rocked it, even though she was in a relatively small supporting role. The rest of the cast consisted of some unknowns that really pulled it together and helped make the film feel pretty authentic. Israel Broussard plays Marc, a sweet and uncomfortable kid who meets Rebecca (Katie Chang) a drop-dead cool chick who inadvertently becomes the Ring leader of the klepto teens.
I would keep my eye out for the newbies in this one, as they really held their own without being over the top. If they had casted any more famous faces it would have been extremely hard to get through the idea of “famous people” stealing from famous people’s houses. (Like how it’s a bit hard to see a skeezy club owner without simply seeing Gavin Rossdale.) Overall, I thought the cast was pretty solid and all-together they truly brought new meaning to wanting to raid someone’s closet.
A: I have to say, I completely agree with Carmela: Emma Watson and Leslie Mann were the most notable, and at some points the most entertaining. For an actress who (to me) seems so down to earth, Watson played the ditzy Beverly Hills girl quite well. As for Israel Broussard, you totally feel bad for him and one part of you wants to because, well, he was really being pressured by Katie Chang’s character. In the same breath, you really don’t want to feel bad for him because he knew what he was doing and really could have stopped at any time. I think this back and forth with wanting to like and dislike him just really represents his own turmoil with deciding what’s right and what’s wrong. I think too having a no-name actor play a relatively no-name character (in the context of the story, of course, not the whole case) is really the way to do it. Even if you have an A- or B-list actor who knows how to humble himself for such a role, you’re going to get the same impact as you would with a potential up-and-comer. As for Taissa Farmiga, I love love loved her in American Horror Story and also wish she’d had more of a supporting role here. But, I guess with Watson, Chang and even Broussard being such big personalities in the movie, you can’t have everyone in the spotlight. Still, Farmiga and Broussard are definitely on my to-watch list.
M: What most impressed me about this movie was the range of shots Coppola used. You’d think a movie about the same actions repeated over and over might get redundant but Coppola keeps it fresh by getting creative. Take the scene of the gang robbing Audrina Patridge’s house, which is done in one continuous shot from afar, looking into her house through its massive windows and following our characters as they flick lights on and off throughout the house. Shots are also really pretty (for lack of a better word): pink sunlight streaming through the palm trees, silhouettes running across the L.A. skyline, flecks of light reflected off a disco-ball dancing across the walls. Obviously, cinematographers Christopher Blauvelt and Harris Savides deserve a nod too. Coppola also used a variety of media, like screenshots of Facebook pages and clips from celeb red carpet appearances, which at first seems jarring but eventually becomes essential. The whole movie is beautiful to watch.
COMPARISON TO PAST COPPOLA WORKS
E: I already covered the soundtrack similarities in the Music section, but there are definite other Coppola comparisons to be pulled from The Bling Ring. Most notably, the materialistic glaze the film casts is very much akin to the one Coppola presented with Marie Antoinette, which is, above all, a discussion of the obscenity with which the French monarch cherished pretty, expensive things (MACARONS IN EVERY PASTEL COLOUR, PLZ AND THX). Just instead of heavily corseted gowns and mile-high greying wigs, this time around, we get Miu Miu minis and Lindsay Lohan’s studded Louboutins.
What makes The Bling Ring slightly more interesting than Marie Antoinette, and in some ways, Coppola’s fellow occasionally L.A.-set Somewhere, is that it turns the focus away from the legitimately famous and onto the so-desperate-to-be-famous-they’ll-set-for-infamous. I know that Coppola, the kid of Francis Ford, has been overly familiar with the celeb lifestyle for her entire life, but it’s great to see her take a step back and explore the Average Janes and Joes for once, especially in a day and age when those parties seem so damn desperate to rise above their titles, whether that be through a reality TV gig, or even just a ridiculous amount of RTs.
I think that Coppola might be at her best at writing and directing these types of characters too, as evidenced with her two most interesting female figures: The Virgin Suicides‘ Lux (Kirsten Dunst), a girl desperate to break free from the banality of suburbia and into the arms of the straight-off-of-Tiger-Beat stone fox that is Trip Fontaine (Josh Harnett); and Lost in Translation’s Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a young woman who falls for an aging actor (Bill Murray) while struggling to find her place in modern-day Tokyo. Although certainly not as focused on as Lux or Charlotte, The Bling Ring‘s Rachel certainly captured my attention as much as they did, thanks to both Chang’s commanding performance and Coppola’s concerted effort to try and understand this girl’s fierce and fearless desire to live, breath and steal the lives of the rich and the tabloid-famous.
E: Although definitely not my favourite dishy juvenile delinquent tale of the year (that would be the grimy-gorgy Spring Breakers) or without faults, The Bling Ring can be considered a bit of brash brilliance simply due to the fact that it tells the zeitgeist-hitting true story of California kids who went from accessories to accessories after the fact in the pursuit of the modern American dream, Hollywood Hills frills, dollar bills and all.
M: While there wasn’t as much depth as I was expecting–both story-wise and character-wise–and putting aside the “true story” ploy, it was sparkly and pretty enough to entertain me (I should just as shallow as those girls, don’t I?).
A: Okay, so maybe the characters had the emotional depth of a puddle (except maybe Israel Broussard–though I think that’s normal in L.A.), but all in all I enjoyed it. I think one of Coppola’s best qualities is that she can take something or someone (i.e. Marie Antoinette) that is really just asking for scrutiny and mocks it in a really entertaining way–you definitely know that they’re totally scoffing at that Beverly Hills culture. I dug it.
C: Overall, I thought the cast was pretty solid and all-together they truly brought new meaning to wanting to raid someone’s closet.