In the interests of full disclosure, I have translated and subtitled The Bling Ring into Portuguese. 

Whether Sofia Coppola will ever repeat the magnificence of Lost in Translation is pretty much a moot point. By its own nature, any masterpiece is unrepeatable, even though that film's heightened state of limbo between reality and desire, the chasm between aspirations and real life, seems to signpost a recurring theme in Ms. Coppola's work. After the startled, subdued reception awarded Somewhere, though, The Bling Ring does suggest a newly-found drive in the director.

     Based on the true story of a gang of well-off teenagers who broke into Hollywood celebrity homes and absconded with luxury items they kept or sold, it's a breezier, more narratively conventional film than usual for Ms. Coppola, even though it gives off a bitter after-taste. Her look at celebrity culture and the hollow, self-centered narcissism of moneyed teenagers starts off with the fast-moving pop insouciance of the underrated Marie Antoinette without the "little rich girl lost" melancholy vibe, matched with the heightened teenage dreamstate of The Virgin Suicides. It's a compact little movie that is able to slow down at a moment's notice to savor the improbable rush of being a teenager cat-burglar seemingly getting away with it.

     The Bling Ring observes the titular teenagers with a fascination over their simultaneous ability to be clued-in to the latest celebrity gossip and utterly clueless as to any sort of underlying morality, making the film a breathless look at teenage recklessness tinged with a canny disbelief of their total lack of societal landmarks. Based on an article published in Vanity Fair, it's a fictionalized take on the events, with Ms. Coppola, also scripting, putting Marc (Israel Broussard), the only boy in the five-strong group, as the viewer's surrogate. Marc is the "new kid in town", newly-arrived to a Hollywood high school, is taken under the wing of the resident "cool kid", fashion-obsessed Rebecca (Katie Chang); his statements to the Vanity Fair reporter are the connecting tissue for the film, counterpointed by those of the group's most outrageously clueless member, home-schooled runway wannabe Nicki (a scene-stealing performance by Harry Potter's Emma Watson).

     That structure is also a yardstick of Ms. Coppola's control over the project: though the nominal Ring-leader was the alert, calculating Rebecca, she prefers (maybe for legal reasons?) to tell the story through the eyes of Marc, the "odd man out" both in financial and social terms, and Nicki, who embodies all that's wrong with these rich kids living inside a bubble of their own making. In so doing, she makes clear the moral aspect to her tale, one she allows to remain present throughout in a light but determined manner; no excuses are made for the behaviour of the Bling Ring itself, even if the reasons as to why they behaved like this are left somewhat glossed over. But she also allows the film to feel somewhat off-kilter, unbalanced, with Rebecca, the most intriguing of the group, remaining forever beyond the viewer's reach, and all other characters save Marc and Nicki merely sketched as accessories, in all senses of the word. Unlike Ms. Coppola's previous work, though, there's hardly any sense of lethargic existentialism in The Bling Ring, replaced by a more assertive rhythm and a clearer narrative engagement. It's, clearly, a step up in her career. Its direction is, however, less clear.

Cast: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Georgia Rock, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann
Director: Sofia Coppola
Screenplay: Ms. Coppola, based on the Vanity Fair article by Mary Jo Sales, "The Suspects Wore Louboutins"
Cinematography: Harris Savides, Christopher Blauvelt (colour)
Music: Brian Reitzell, Daniel Lopatin
Designer: Anne Ross
Costumes: Stacey Battat
Editor: Sarah Flack
Producers: Roman Coppola, Ms. Coppola, Youree Henley (American Zoetrope and NALA Films in association with Pathé Distribution, Tohokushinsha, Tobis Film, Studiocanal and Filmnation Entertainment)
USA/France/Japan/Germany/United Kingdom, 2013, 90 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 1 (Lisbon), July 29th 2013


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