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Movie Review: Happiness in emptiness in 'The Bling Ring'

This fictionalized tale of a true story often relies too much on art house guns to justify its dragging, slow-as-racing snails pacing.

It wasn’t totally unexpected. Like the rest of her filmography, writer and director Sophia Coppola gets too obscurantist for her own good. “The Bling Ring” takes forever to cue the viewer in on the rhythm the movie is operating in, and the point of some scenes; some of celebrity clips and photos done in TV-style slideshow edits smack of laziness or sheer audacity – I don’t know which one it is, but I didn’t like it at all.

Coppola has said in interviews that the idea was “to try to show the story from their perspective, in the collage style of social media. It’s a story that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago.”

Yeah. Right. This off-kilter directing style that may seem to Ms. Coppola like her signature touch is really a flaw in her game. Work on it, girl, please.  

The material itself is exciting enough. Based on author Nancy Jo Sales’ 2012 Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” and her book “The Bling Ring”, this one is about how a gang of well-off teens from Calabasas, California became the most successful and outrageous burglary gang in noughties Hollywood memory.  

Sales’ on-point long-form piece is a treatise on how consumer culture can consume absolutely to motivate stealing, and the absurd security measures of quite a few celeb houses – but especially Paris Hilton’s.

You won’t believe how these kids got away with all of it, but the LAPD reports are pretty succinct about it: from around October 2008 up to August 2009 they successfully stole from the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge, Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green, and Orlando Bloom (who blamed and fired his maid on suspicion of theft) and Miranda Kerr.

What did they steal? When it came to luxury brands, what didn’t they? They went straight for Chanel, Gucci, Tiffany, Cartier, Prada, Marc Jacobs, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, Yves Saint Laurent, even perfume and underwear, plus Brian Austin Green’s hand gun.

They bagged a total of about $3 million in cash and belongings, most of it from Ms. Hilton, because she had so much stuff she never noticed things were missing. And it worked because Paris didn’t report any of the burglaries until December of 2008. So be sure to check for the key under the door mat if you want to steal her dog, man.

The absurd comedy of their crimes, especially when they were caught and everything went to the fan, is really that: a laundry list of how several teens got away with robbing celebs with just can-do and Google Maps.

And that’s probably the only thing that’s cautionary here. See, none of their crimes would have even been possible if these people locked their doors, took their keys with them, kept a guard dog inside the house instead of nurturing miniature play breeds. At least Lindsay Lohan and Audrina Patridge had surveillance cams installed in their homes.

It’s a movie about taking what you can because some of the most precious stuff tends to not be tied down. These kids didn’t even have the presence of mind to wear ski masks when they jumped fences. As far as I remember they only donned their hoodies twice.

If they tried their shtick here you think they’d get two steps beyond the gate before a squad of dogs tore them to bits and left only Chanel or LV pieces? The answer is not just no, but hell no.   

Emma Watson (center) leads the young cast in Sofia Coppola's slow-paced "The Bling Ring." A24 Films
Some people (read: Harry Potter fans) will likely go see this for the novelty of seeing Emma Watson break out of her good-girl image by playing Nicky Moore (real-life culprit Alexis Neiers). True enough, credit must go to Watson for daring to portray someone she’s been quoted as saying she “hates”; as in, “How do you play someone you hate?”

See Hermione Granger krumpin' in the club and busting her booty. See her climbing gates and fawning over high-end brands like sacred relics. See her mouthing bizarre spiritual maxims as she tries to dodge criminal charges and give exclusive interviews claiming how all of it must be “a situation [that] 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.” Yeah, that one was hilarious.  

Not quite as daring as her fellow Potter star Daniel Radcliffe's turn in "Equus", but good enough. Watson has confessed that she prepared for her part by watching reality shows and putting up a Twitter account for Nicky. Her debut tweet went: "Twitterers meet Nicki, Nicki meet twitterers. Nicki likes Lip Gloss, Purses, Yoga, Pole Dancing, Uggs, Louboutins, Juice Cleanses, Iced coffee and Tattoos."

Though Katie Chang as Rebecca Ahn (real life Bling Ringer Rachel Lee) and Israel Broussard as the flaky wallpaper Marc Hall (real life Bling Ringer Nick Prugo) are the duo that pushes for most of the crime sprees, the acting claps must go to Taissa Farmiga as Sam Moore and breakout beauty Claire Julien as the blonde Chloe who probably had the most criminal IQ among the bunch (she actually volunteered to stay on lookout).

These crimes of fashion bring to the forefront just how happy some people can be with the superficialities. The Bling Ring case one house after another, party it up, then plan their next heist. Then rinse and repeat.

This may exactly be the point to drive home how shallow and vapid and vacant of meaning all the Bling Ring members are, but it’s sacrificed for pacing. Before the teens are caught things were so boring I could have watched ice melt and I would have been just as entertained.   

Even if the hip-hop tracks – which the teens all like rapping along to – were well chosen, some crucial sound design (paging Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross!) could have clued me in and the rest of the audience into what the heck was happening on screen and the subtle changes in burgling this celeb’s house from the other celeb’s crib. Or at least it would have kept me interested enough to keep my eyes open.  

Where “The Bling Ring” shines is with veracity and accuracy. Like I said, the movie takes pains to present how events occurred, what the teens said to the press, and the spirit of how each member was and their on-screen depictions. With the media quotes any fluffing or smoothing over for dramatic purposes would have been redundant: the teens gave enough absurd, comedic sound bytes to rival a Kris Aquino confessional segment.

A lot of the commentary and pre-release feedback from the real Bling Ringers themselves was negative in a way that they felt there would be either too much stomping on or too much glorification. But in actuality “The Bling Ring” does a stand-up job at remaining neutral and presenting the events, as is, with little coloring from the filmmaker’s voice.

Before you clap for Coppola, though, this is a low point as well. What commentary the movie does have on materialism and the yearning for a celebrity life by vicarious theft is so hands-off that the teens’ criminal routine stretches to something as, again, dragging as a woolly mammoth trying to escape from a tar pit.

But things like Nicky Moore’s soundbytes are the lifeblood of this movie. It’s all worth it when the kids open their mouths to try and justify their thieving.

Listen: “I see myself being like an Angelina Jolie, but even stronger, pushing even harder for the universe and for peace and for the health of our planet. God didn’t give me these talents and looks to just sit around being a model or being famous.” — BM, GMA News

“The Bling Ring” is currently screening in Metro Manila theaters.