Do ‘The Bling Ring’s Unlikeable Characters Make it Harder to Understand Its Message?
Sofia Coppola’s latest dark comedy The Bling Ring has been talked about since it premiered in Cannes, and now that it’s hit theaters, the general consensus seems a little confused. Is it a daring piece of social commentary or an empty, yet beautiful, shell that doesn’t go deep enough into the world it aims to explore? My guess is that it will appeal to the young and the similarly fame-obsessed, but some of the more ‘sensible’ critics and film fans have dismissed it as shallow moviemaking at its most deluded.
For isn’t a popcorn flick that thinks itself a social commentary the worst kind of summer movie? Some are assigned that honor, such as The Dark Knight and similar surprise hits, but it’s been clear from the start that Coppola wanted The Bling Ring to say something about youth culture, our obsession with fame, and our general attitude towards both. The trouble is the film itself doesn’t make this entirely obvious, and it may have something to do with the filmmaker’s own perspective.
Coppola has said in various interviews that she wanted to avoid passing judgement or scorn on her characters, preferring to leave it up to the audience, but isn’t it the job of the director to guide their audience to a certain set of conclusions? We see the events of the movie and, to some extent, the final outcome for its characters, but not enough of who and why is revealed for us to form any kind of informed opinion. The people we spend two hours watching indulge in their fantasies of fame and excess aren’t people at all, but symbols of a kind of perceived sickness in modern society.
Reality television, especially of the semi-scripted variety, has built itself on a foundation of exaggerated characters and unbelievable situations, and the story behind The Bling Ring is a dream for movie and television executives. Here are a group of attractive, media-ready and fame-hungry young people so desperate to be a part of the celebrity sphere that they created their own reason for being famous. We complain about people becoming ‘famous for being famous,’ but this story takes it one step further. A major motion picture starring Emma Watson is likely to be exactly what they wanted.
So a movie about people who want to be in movies is automatically satirical, and to avoid passing overt judgement stops it from being a ‘movie of the week’ style critique that alienates the target audience. That said, a lot of the criticism aimed at the film has focused on the sheer unlikeability of the central characters, and how it’s hard to care about a film when the film itself is devoid of recognizable emotion. The characters start off vapid and never really learn or grow, so is it the audience’s responsibility to look past the surface pleasures and learn from their mistakes? That seems to be asking a lot.
Will we look back on The Bling Ring as an important piece of cinema documenting a point in time? If it’s a warts and all look at youth culture and the media today, then it’s a very bleak one indeed.