Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
In 2003, Sofia Coppola made a unique, glorious, introspective, very personal film about the loneliness of privilege called Lost in Translation. One of the best films of the decade – and one of the greatest of all American films – Translation captures a man’s midlife crisis (and the newly anointed quarter life crisis that plagues Gen Y like locust of a young girl) with humor and grace, style and sophistication, and somehow makes a movie star’s depression our own (no small feat). Bill Murray gives the performance of his career while Scarlett Johannson turns in her first of many great turns. It is a masterpiece of subtlety and wit.
And then she made the movie again and called it Marie Antoinette, a beautiful series of music videos capturing the notorious queen’s lonely angst within a spoiled existence.
Then again as the abominable Somewhere, the tale of a distant movie star father and his sullen, spunky teenage daughter living in the Chateau Marmount; a film so slow and painfully self-indulgent that watching Warhol’s Sleep would be more enjoyable.
Oh, and lest we forget her debut: The Virgin Suicides, a tale of spoiled, beautiful teenage girls who make a suicide pact because life is so hard for the spoiled, beautiful teenage girls of the world.
In her latest film, The Bling Ring, she takes us into the world of, yep, you guessed it, spoiled, beautiful rich Hollywood teens who are so bored and entitled with their privilege that they decide to break into the homes of famous people, steal their property, and sell it on the sidewalk like lemonade. This is based on the real life crimes and subsequent Vanity Fair article, “The Suspect Wore Louboutins,” in where 3 million dollars of cash and belongings were stolen from the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Orlando Bloom. Sofia, never without her friends in high places, shot the film’s robberies in the real homes of the victims, even taking us into Paris Hilton’s private closet within a closet that houses all of the jewelry her grandfather’s money has afforded her. I wonder if all of the Paris Hilton memorabilia littered throughout, including her OWN PERFUME ON HER OWN NIGHT STAND, was actually there or set-decorated by Sofia and Co. to play up the “satirical” nature of the film. This film is a satire, you know, which makes all the glorification of stupid, pretty, entitled, awful, vapid, worthless teenagers one big joke. Or so Wikipedia tells us.
I couldn’t tell you any of the characters’ names because they all exist more as an archetypical collective than as individuals. Sofia has done nothing to develop them and since none of them are played by famous people (except Emma Watson, of course), one blond spoiled white girl is pretty interchangeable for any other. There is the sole guy, the new kid in town, who is indoctrinated into the foolishness of his new Beverly Hills pals (or are they from Orange County? Whatever…) one evening at a party when the ringleader, the Asian girl, randomly and nonchalantly steals a purse out of an unlocked parked car. From there, naturally the next step is to break into his friend’s house because his family is in Florida. It’ll be fun, she says! Presumably (and I say presumably because we know absolutely NOTHING about him or her or anyone else at any time), he agrees in order to seem “cool” to the “Plastic” girl and she wants to break in because…well, because she can. On the way out, they steal the car in the driveway. In broad daylight. There is no recourse. No consequence. Rich kids don’t get in trouble.
After getting away with grand larceny in the middle of the day, they decide to hit up Paris Hilton’s house because she is out of town at some dumb club where she is making some appearance like anyone cares about her fucking face. How do they know where she lives? Why, Google Maps! They show up at her house and steal her shoes, her cash, and a bracelet. Oh, and no one stops them because Paris Hilton – one of the wealthiest and most famous of the celebutantes – apparently doesn’t have a security system and doesn’t lock her doors.
Cut to them breaking into another house. And another house. We should get out of here! Stop being paranoid. Giving each other fashion shows in their bedrooms. And another house. We should leave! Stop being a pussy. Getting into a car wreck with no recourse, no consequences. Staring vacantly at their vacant selves in the mirror wearing Paris Hilton’s perfume somehow thinking they can be like her. We are going to get caught. Oh my God, I totally look fetch in this Louis Vuitton. Bragging about their deeds. Bringing more people on the robberies. And another. And another. It seems that no one in Hollywood locks their doors when they go away for the weekend.
It takes until about the 45 minute mark for any kind of stakes to occur when the guy is finally spotted on one of their surveillance cameras. But by this point, we couldn’t give two shits what happens to any of them because they are all completely obnoxious without any understanding on how the real world functions. Which only makes sense because they all live in some alternate universe called Rich and Fabulous. Even when they are caught, indicted, and sentenced they shake it off with adolescent apathy because A) they get out of jail early, B) they use their infamy to become famous, and C) they will undoubtedly go on unscathed, having their lives turned into a Lifetime TV movie and an acclaimed feature release by an Oscar winner. They have won.
“Oh my God, you guys. Who’s going to play us in the movie? I hope someone really hot,” said everyone ever.
The problem is not that these events are displayed in this way; after all, they really happened (which is ridiculous and frightening). The problem is that a filmmaker of Sofia’s talent and standing decided to make this film in the first place. Who but other rich, spoiled kids give a fuck about other rich, spoiled kids? And yes, Sofia can do whatever she wants. She is an artist. Blah-blah-blah. And yes, there is something to be said about an artist sticking to what they do best. But seriously, Sofia. You grew up rich and bored and didn’t have a great relationship with your dad as a child. We get it. You are 42. When are you going to get over this “troubled” youth phase? It’s getting really old.
OK. Enough moralizing. The Bling Ring fails miserably not because of what it says about our culture; Sofia didn’t create this world, she is merely reflecting it. Nor does it fail because of Coppola’s own arrested development. The Bling Ring fails at the most basic tenants of filmmaking: Storytelling. Character development. Stakes. And Entertainment. The plot is nothing but a series of robbery vignettes, the characters are half-dimensional (they are not even developed enough to have a dimension), the stakes are fairly non-existent (Wealthy Justice is not the same as And Justice for All), and the film is about as enjoyable as a colonoscopy (I bet you can guess to which category this film will belong…).
But where Coppola fails most is Point of View. At first, she seems to be aligning with the protagonists; then making fun of them. She keeps us at a distance from everyone, making it impossible to connect; then suddenly tries to get us invested in the mother/daughter relationship between Emma Watson and Leslie Mann. She seems to let us have cake and eat it too. But it tastes dry, overcooked and missing ingredients. She seems apprehensive to take any kind of stand. So she sits down. Even the beautiful cinematography by the late Harris Savides (Elephant, Birth, Milk), while rapturous, captures nothing. The constant use of slow-motion is meant to glorify their untouchable quality and make us see them as bad-asses, when all it really does is accentuate their vapidness. The music is great (it pays to be the wife of a musician), but Sofia really just needs to make music videos. That’s all her films are anyway. Like she employed in Somewhere, Sofia captures the ennui of Wealth by boring us to tears.