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Mystery DVD #251 - There Are No Walls in the House of Jearl
October 12th, 2015
07:54 am

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Mystery DVD #251
The Bling Ring

Based on fact, this comic thriller tracks the saga of the Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch, who used the Web to time their robberies of stars' homes. The teenage band stole millions in cash, jewelry and other items from victims including Paris Hilton.

Marc and Rebecca meet in high school and bond over fashion magazines. He has an absentee dad in some kind of movie-creating role and wants to be a stylist! She wants to be a designer and is nice about sharing her drugs! Together, they do crime! Well, Rebecca does crime and Marc helps because she's very confident and he's pretty needy. Rebecca's kind of awesome, she clomps around in these huge boots and boosts unlocked cars like nothing could ever come of it. But she's a BAD PERSON, I guess, BAD.

Sofia Coppola has a strange way of telling a story. She just sort of puts this film out there, like gently rolling a ball down a hill and leaving the viewer to keep up or not. We start with a break-in towards the end of the Ring's spree, see the aftermath of them getting bested, and then jump back to the beginning for a very quick introduction to our two main thieves, Marc and Rebecca. Characters aren't really introduced so much as added in, and we get to know them a little bit, eventually. Burglar Number Three, Nicki-- her situation is the most clearly spelled out -- maybe because the real person from whom the character was drawn was especially available for study, I don't know. The film did seem to go out of its way to gawk especially at Nicki, with her gross, "The Secret"-believing mom and best-friend-mom both trying to give her media interview for her. Or maybe Nicki was so prominent because they had Emma Watson in the role. I wasn't even sure of all the kids' names until about two thirds of the way through. The thing is, I sort of enjoyed having to do this extra work! It certainly made me pay close attention to who knew what and what extra kid was brought along on what heist.

But still, I guess I wanted more motivation, more ability to understand them. OK, Nicki's weird because her mom thinks "The Secret" is both a spiritual program and a sustainable lifestyle. But Rebecca's the driving force of the ring, and Marc's the main point of view character, and there's never any attempt made to justify why those kids did what they did or why they are the way they are. They're not made sympathetic or unsympathetic -- Marc is lonely and insecure but he also goes along with whatever Rebecca wants with barely any show of resistance, and he's the one shown trying to actually monetize their loot. Rebecca comes off as a little more sociopathic, if only because we're given nothing, it's like you have to feel out that she's obsessed with Lindsey Lohan because she doesn't talk about it... There are two sustained moments that seem like the movie's trying to show us something -- Marc smoking pot and dancing by himself, in night vision, like he's trying to psych himself up for something that never happens, and Rebecca at Lohan's vanity table, looking like she's having a religious experience. The kids give so much weight and meaning to these celebrities and at the same time feel totally entitled to break into their homes and take their stuff. They want the look, that's all. The person doesn't exist.

What am I meant to think when I can't tell if the film wants me to sympathize with its entitled little monsters or to judge them? Nicki's household is held up practically as a circus exhibit. I feel like I'm supposed to side with Marc and hate Rebecca, because I'm shown everything from Marc's point of view, his misgivings, his occasional requests to be more careful, and I'm shown Rebecca clearly not giving a shit, trying to play dumb when the jig is up, but she's not careful enough to be an actual evil mastermind. She just wanted pretty things. They all did, and none of them seemed to care or even understand that it wasn't all just theirs to take. And the thing is, the film doesn't make much of a case that their crimes mattered either. Shouldn't it matter, a little bit, that they repeatedly paw through Paris Hilton's closet?

The soundtrack is great, in fact I liked the overall use of sound a lot. Coppola's very good at shifting from an objective point-of-view to Marc's inner emotional voice. But as a movie, and I feel like I say this a lot, but I don't know if this is actually good. I guess I sort of liked it? In a frustrated way? It was a strikingly weird form of storytelling and I couldn't even say if it was deliberate. Paris Hilton is a real sport.

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From:Carl Muckenhoupt
Date:October 12th, 2015 04:18 pm (UTC)
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I felt like Rebecca's motivation was simply an unhealthy fetishization of celebrity, and a desire to be connected to it in some way, even if the closest she can get to it is wearing famous people's clothes. Also, I kind of got the impression that to Coppola, who's lived in and around the cult of Hollywood her whole life, this motivation seems obvious and even natural. If so, Rebecca is probably meant to be a tragic figure who we understand and sympathize with even as we censure her.
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From:jearl
Date:October 12th, 2015 04:24 pm (UTC)
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I agree with your interpretation of Rebecca. I'm still struggling with how I feel about the storytelling technique of... well, not beating me over the head with her characterization. I do like not being beaten over the head for a change, but since I'm not from a place where her motivation seems obvious and natural, perhaps I could have used a gentle thwack.
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From:joenotcharles
Date:October 12th, 2015 05:48 pm (UTC)
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I dunno, it seemed fairly obvious to me, because the movie spent so much time showing just how WEIRD it would be to live near Hollywood. Everybody in North America knows a whole bunch about the lives of these stars, because they're on TV all the time and covered in magazines, and they have entire shows devoted to following them around with cameras and reporting on what they do - clearly they must be a Big Deal. Meanwhile, there are these kids who live just down the street from them, go to the same nightclubs, hang out with people who have met them, and they get none of that.

Where I'm from, getting followed around with a camera and reported on in tabloids just because you're you is something that happens to people who live on the other side of the continent. It doesn't seem real. I imagine that people who move to Hollywood hoping to break into film have a similar perspective - they don't expect to just show up and get famous, they expect to show up and have to put in some hard work. (And then their dreams get crushed when it turns out hard work won't do it either, but that's another story...) But to someone who's grown up in that environment, where there are lots of people with money and mansions who wear designer clothes and dance at the best clubs, but a handful of them are a HUGE DEAL and everyone else is just some nobody... Yeah, I can totally understand them having a screwed up relationship with celebrity.

I mean, I don't know anybody who would ever think to wander into Lindsay Lohan's house uninvited and see what it's like inside, but that's at least partly because we'd have to take a 12 hour flight and pass through customs. The logistical hurdles mean this is a non-starter. If it were a 5 minute drive, maybe it wouldn't seem so insane.

That said, I did feel like the movie was building to some kind of statement about these people and then it just never happened. I enjoyed most of it, but it was pretty frustrating when it was over.
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From:jearl
Date:October 13th, 2015 05:46 am (UTC)
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Yeah! Frustrating! What I guess is still tripping me up is that the kids wanted to do this, they wanted the things that would make them like their idols, but getting what they want and doing what they want to do doesn't seem to affect them. Like they're bored even in their enjoyment. They do more drugs. They get a popularity/notoriety bump. But I couldn't see any difference in how they are with each other as the story progresses. Like nothing changed for them, not even after their arrests. And maybe there's plenty of material there to challenge my point, that I just couldn't see because that culture is so alien to me.
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