Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: THE BLING RING: The Gold Glows Bright in New Constantinople

They gather from their exile in the high school for the rejects of the 1% in Los Angeles and one of them realises that the celebrities they all lust after leave their houses for big photo opportunities at a time. Paris Hilton even leaves her keys under the mat. The superfriends jump the fences of the pillars of the new Byzantium and plunder their wares but not before marvelling (which is half the point) at the opulence, the skin-honeying riches of the light inside the coffers. Then they sell it at roadside stalls. It's the proximity not the price tag.

This story taken from the TMZ headlines forms the basis of the first consummate film from the gal who might have been one of its characters or their victims. Sofia Coppola debuted pleasantly with The Virgin Suicides, moved to a place of approval with Lost in Translation and tried for a kind of cover version of Ken Russell in Marie Antoinette. Haven't seen Somewhere. But here, she is reporting from the front. As LA royalty she is prime real estate for such targeting. This is the time where she stops being whimsically competent or higher and starts getting good.

That's why when you get the expected mix of CCTV video, filmy sheen and Facebook strafing it's not attempting to be new or brash but simply evoking the language. Sofia Coppola knows where she lives. She lives in the dream factory of Hollywood but she also lives in trash central, the big rhinestone dazzle of the new Byzantium where the unbelievably famous live like the inheritors of Rome in houses made like Cornell boxes of brand names and all other things that shine. These teenagers have already grown post-school. The nightclubs they charm their way into are peopled by the cake-icing-pink famous faces that stare from magazine cover layouts at the entrance to the common feeder lines of supermarkets. They are cells in the same arteries. Parasites? Only if the celebrities are.

A trim pace and energetic performances keep this one going from credits to credits without viewer-effort. That's not sarcasm it's recognition. Coppola has made a narrative film in response to her subject matter and, with the steely precision of the veteran status she has earned now, makes it fun. The great grey canyons between these teens and everything around them are sped through in stolen Porches with baggies fat with White Lady coke in the glove boxes and designer label purses fallen between the seats.

The house invasions are like extreme sport Hollywood bus tours (one in brilliant long shot shows them running through a supermodel's house that is so neon lighted and open to the world's view that it beats scenes of Paris Hilton's house (which, by permission, was her real house) stuffed with cushions bearing her famous vacantly perfect face. In this case the kids look like aquarium exotica, darting in and out of view while the great golden veins of the LA lights burn bright behind.

Meanwhile the kids are celebrities themselves on the hush hush. News reports and TMZ pieces, almost indistinguishable, these lepers of the high school system taking a similar detour into enterprise that Tom Cruise took in Risky Business. Once discovered and arrested, they are surrounded by reps and minders who guide them through media interviews more admiring than investigative and are, finally the kind of micro industries that their victims were. It's the new Byzantium and everyone's a star.

I liked Coppola's films before but now I'm sitting up and taking notice because with this she has gone beyond her father's shadow and any further need to impress to be noticed. If she didn't have the talent she'd be making ever more fey repeats of Virgin Suicides. This is the "great learning lesson" one of her characters claims. If she wanted to dazzle before (not just Francis Ford's girl but Spike Jonez's wife - that's a lot of shadow to shake) she no longer needs to. Here she hurls an expertly judged paintbomb at the screen not to wow us but, much much better, for us to witness and judge for ourselves.

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