"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review: The Bling Ring

I wanted to see this movie for a few reasons. First, to see what Emma Watson's up to. Second, to finally see a Sophia Coppola movie. Third, for the chance to spend 90 minutes in the southern California sun.

And I definitely enjoyed it. There were some really interesting shots, great performances, and obviously, given the subject matter, killer costuming. I was especially happy to finally see Coppola's style - and it really is a style, which is wonderful. I love watching director's movies. Even when the directorial touches are light, like her use of obvious, jarring music or her choice of a few unconventional framings for key scenes in the movie, they give the film shape and a kind of consciousness - or maybe conscientiousness is a better word. It makes the film feel crafted.

This shot, for example, takes the point of view of one among many cameras directed at the characters' lives - news cameras, security cameras, phone cameras. It's not so much to make you feel alienated from the story, but enough to make you briefly remember your position as a viewer and briefly consider the angle from which the story is being told.

That angle is for the most part slanted toward Marc, the one guy in the group of five teens who decide to start stealing from celebrities. Except only one of them really decides. After Rebecca leads a puppy-dog Marc along on a few preliminary break-ins, the rest of the girls fall in without, it seems, a second thought. This is a bit difficult to believe, but then what these teens did in real life is also difficult to believe. I kind of expected Coppola to explore the motives behind the craziness, and she does to an extent.
Very subtly, she suggests the parallels between the teens and their famous victims - such as the way the victims carelessly leave the keys to their mansions under their doormats while the teens carelessly boast about their conquests to the friends who eventually turn them in. But I left the film with a lot of lingering questions about what was going on behind those beautifully made-up faces.

Again, very subtly, Coppola does convey the effect of the crime on the main characters. It comes through in the shift from lazy beach hangouts at the beginning of the film to a frantic cocaine montage near the end. It comes through in the different ways they break down upon arrest. Watson in particular did such a good job that I almost felt sorry for her, until I remembered how she'd wound up in that cop car.

The film doesn't excuse or explain what happens in it, which I liked. I just wish Coppola had trained her impartial and keen gaze a bit longer and looked a bit deeper at the characters. There was one scene I especially loved: Rebecca and Marc are driving in the dark, and the camera sits just behind them, in the middle of the back seat, so we can't really see their faces, just the partially-lit road ahead. Marc asks Rebecca if she would ever rob him if they weren't friends. Rebecca says something like, "I would never do that to you." And yet by the end, she betrays him. That one scene takes the characters fathoms deeper without even showing their faces and opens up new questions about the meaning of robbery, wealth, friendship - all the themes of the movie. I wanted more of that.

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