(2011)3.5Perry SeibertAfter downscaling her ambitions with the very low-key father/daughter drama Somewhere, Sofia Coppola branches out in a whole new direction with The Bling Ring, which combines a satirical comedy of manners about fame-seeking, TMZ-obsessed California teens with her patented examination of haunted young people.
Troubled Marc (Israel Broussard) is new to his California neighborhood, and suffers through the typical first-day rejections by everyone at his high school until he's befriended by Rebecca (Katie Chang), who hints that she's had as many behavioral and emotional problems as him. The pair soon bond over Us Weekly and other glossy celebrity magazines -- it turns out that Marc knows a great deal about clothes and shoes -- as well as a shared compulsion to steal wallets and bags from unlocked cars.
Their illegal exploits eventually escalate to trespassing in the homes of classmates who are out of town; later, they figure out when celebrities are away, sneak into their houses, and liberate jewels, designer labels, and drugs -- returning regularly to Paris Hilton's gaudily furnished mansion. After bragging about their adventures, Rebecca's fame-hungry friend Nicki (Emma Watson) -- whose mother gives all of them daily lessons from the Oprah-approved, positive-thinking book known as The Secret -- wants in on the fun, as do a few other acquaintances. As their break-ins become more frequent and their Facebook feeds are jam-packed with selfies in which they rock the hottest styles, the authorities grow closer to putting an end to their hedonistic thrill ride.
As a member of the Coppola clan and a woman who spent some time in a famous marriage, it's safe to assume that Sofia knows a thing or three about modern celebrity culture, and among The Bling Ring's many charms is the gleeful way it skewers Nicki, whose massive self-regard and ego grow more monstrous as the case gains media attention. However, the movie is more than just a sharp stick in the eye of the tabloid crowd. There's genuine pain in both Marc and Rebecca that's expressed not in a narcissistic desire for attention, but in an attempt to learn about themselves. At its core, The Bling Ring isn't really about Nicki -- as pleasurable of a character as she is -- it's another poignant Sofia Coppola story about young people in the process of self-discovery.
Broussard carries the movie effectively; his voice often sounds disconcertingly like Brad Pitt's, and he's blessed with soulful eyes. Marc is more or less a little boy lost, but the actor never asks for your pity. The character is a startlingly genuine troubled teenager, and Broussard's adeptness in the part is a reminder that, among her other talents, Sofia Coppola has always possessed an uncanny knack for casting and directing both men and boys -- getting arguably career-best work out of Josh Hartnett, Bill Murray, and Stephen Dorff.
One of Coppola's other strong suits is picking first-rate collaborators behind the scenes, and it's touching that she dedicates this film to the deceased cinematographer Harris Savides. He started work on the movie and passed away before its completion, and the picture is full of his patented long takes, including a bravura single shot in which we watch Marc and Rebecca work their way through Audrina Partridge's glass-walled abode.
The Bling Ring is something new from the Lost in Translation director. It continues her ongoing portraits of teen alienation, but it's also full of big laughs -- something that dissipates the cultivated emotional delicacy that has been the hallmark of her style. It's an exciting way for her to evolve, and the movie is her first to feel like a worthy successor to her Oscar-winning breakthrough.