My suspicion is that some folks want more depth, more substance, more something from Sophia Coppola’s film The Bling Ring. I am not among them. Some movies are better at evoking an emotional truth that captures a moment and exists within the running time of the film than transcending that reality and bringing viewers larger truths that seem timeless.
The smaller, narrower, slice of life films that capture a particular teenage perspective are valuable, too, even when the featured perspective is shallow because we can extrapolate to acknowledge what is missing without having the director bang viewers over the head with a polemic.
In addition to The Bling Ring (based on actual events involving a group of teenagers who burgle celebrity homes while the famous are out partying), I think of films like Paranoid Park, Elephant, and Thirteen as examples of films that tell stories from the point-of-view of teens without much reference to conventional storytelling tropes and techniques.
Still want more substance? What if this is all there is to the young characters featured in the film? Seems to me, that is the point. Their particular motivations vary a bit from one to another, but overall they steal because they want things and feel entitled, enjoy the thrill, and think they can get away with it.
Beyond their absorption in fashion and fame, the characters are part of a larger tableaux that is carefully constructed and juxtaposed in ways that are aesthetically appropriate. I like the formal aspects of the film as a reflection of the baser elements of consumerism and contemporary culture that consume these teens.
The performances, too, are spot on. Emma Watson is the most famous of the bunch, but all of the actors playing teens are terrific, as is Leslie Mann playing a mom who obliviously home schools her out-of-control girls using a curriculum-lite she has devised around pop philosophy.
I saw the film at an opening day matinee, and the timing was perfect.
That morning, I randomly scanned an advice column in the Washington Post. The questioner wondered why young people didn’t send thank you notes or call to acknowledge her gifts. She was considering suspending gift-giving altogether. The columnist said that there is no excuse for not acknowledging gifts but allowed that today gifts aren’t so special as they used to be because we all have so much and so much of what we have is interchangeable. She suggested figuring out how to give something more meaningful than another gift card or another thing.
A lot of the thrill of receiving (and giving) gifts is gone because there is so little that is special in the merchandise we exchange.
That same day, right after seeing the matinee, I drove by my dry cleaner’s to pick up an item I had left there since April. In a sure sign that I have too much stuff, I wouldn’t have remembered the scarf except that the store manager called me to let me know it was there.
We (as a society) want more and more and value it less and less after we take possession. Where is the joy in that way of being? This deadening effect of materialism and the ridiculousness of fame is exactly what Sophia Coppola captures in The Bling Ring.
The characters lack substance, but the film does not.