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The Bling Ring Welcomes You to the Desert of the Real
Sofia Coppola’s newest film is a shoe fetishist’s dream.

A common (false) complaint surrounding Sofia Coppola’s 2006 effort Marie Antoinette was that the film’s frequent depictions of opulence and decadence deadened you to the plight of Kirsten Dunst’s titular character instead of making it more accessible and explicable to a modern audience. Coppola’s efforts in that film grounded you in the reality of a person whose insular existence slowly lost touch with the realities of her time, reclaiming Marie Antoinette from history and bringing her back to life. Which is all preamble to saying The Bling Ring fails on precisely the levels that many mistakenly accused Marie Antoinette of failing on, plunging us headlong into a world where our lead characters are voids looking to emulate a vacuous celebrity culture defined by gaudy excess and Caligula-style decadence while forgetting to give us anybody or anything to care about along the way.

Coppola does manage a trenchant observation or two throughout the picture, an early scene set in a nightclub where our main characters spend their time taking selfies in lieu of interacting with each other or anyone around them is an example of the film making its point with wit and verve, something the majority of the picture sorely lacks otherwise. Instead we’re treated to an endless parade of scenes where our characters Google the home address of an LA celebrity after finding out they’re out of town and then wander around the interiors ransacking said abode, followed by a subsequent scene of them ingesting illicit drugs and dancing to dubstep in celebration of their ill-gotten gains. Rinse wash repeat. A brief introduction of the "Chekhov’s gun" principle into the monotony breathes momentary life into what becomes a protracted descent into all-encompassing tedium. Gorgeous tedium, though. Sofia Coppola films shoes like Michael Bay shoots explosions – with fetishistic delight, and certain sequences of her characters engaged in their fevered bacchanalia create an appealingly toxic quality, the cinematic equivalent of taking in a lungful of glitter.

But is the film empty on purpose? There’s an argument that could be made that the film is intentionally drowning us in artifice without anything in the way of recognizable or relatable humanity, creating a damning portrait of America’s youth as a TMZ logo-emblazoned ouroboros, much in the way Godard’s Week-End rained an oppressive assault on late-60’s bourgeois values. But Godard had surreal excess on his side and a strong sense of the grotesque, where Coppola seems to be content to let the events speak for themselves despite the events having nearly nothing to say. I don’t ascribe to the theory that this film is trolling its audience, however, I believe it to be genuinely trying to entertain and elucidate the ills of these youths at the same time.

Nowhere is this more evident than through the overtly comedic performances of Emma Watson and Leslie Mann (as Nicki and her mother) in the film’s final third. These are finely honed comedic performances that help enliven the proceedings greatly, but the performances feel pitched at a different frequency than everyone else in the film, as though they’re in on a joke the rest of the cast were never made privy to. If the film had committed in one direction or another, either committing to knowingly lampooning this pursuit of a vacuous ideal or fully immersing us in the meaningless void that is these characters’ lives it might’ve congealed into something more appealing. Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” plays us out over the end credits, and it seems appropriate that his song of youth warped by a cocoon of privilege that inures them from reality makes its points more saliently and soulfully in five minutes than the entire film that precedes it.

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