REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES SEEN, SEPTEMBER 2013
All films from U.S.A. unless otherwise specified.
([v] video piece; [p] para-cinema (installation, etc.); [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade changed upon repeat viewing)
NOTE: I did a lot of coverage of films from the Toronto International Film Festival this month. That can all be found here.
Judging from the critical reception at Cannes, I fully expected The Bling Ring to be inane. But what I didn't expect was that it would be sexist. While Coppola has never been what you might call a feminist director, she has always exhibited a sensitivity to the plight of girls, the small hurts and micro-slights that come to define their sense of who they are (and who they are allowed to be) for years to come. The Virgin Suicides was all about the adolescent male fantasy of "girl," how it formed a trap that could make death seem like a logical option for cementing that unearthly wonder. (Think that's extreme? Just listen to the utterly revolting hit song "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry, which makes a fetish out of a virginal corpse.) Lost in Translation captured post-collegiate aimlessness, and in their own way even misfires like Marie Antoinette and Somewhere captured, even if on the fly, some genuine insights regarding female social pressures, young adulthood, and the moment when playing dress-up begins inching into sexual self-awareness.
By contrast, The Bling Ring is, on its face, all about a group of high school girls who are already ensnared in a party culture that values them only for their performance of sexual and monetary power. Considering just how flimsy this California rich-kid world really is -- not real wealth, but enough money to keep everyone spoiled and oblivious -- it's only natural they would think that breaking into the homes of celebutantes, wearing their jewelry, lying on their beds, smelling their leftover farts in the bathroom, would represent some major life achievement. Butwait! Not only does Coppola provide no critical context whatsoever. (She essentially illustrates a Vanity Fair article in flat, declarative style. That this is one of the late Harris Savides' final projects as D.P. is truly sad, given how little he was allowed to do besides point-and-shoot.) She also makes the decision to channel all possible empathy, and whatever consciousness is on display (which isn't much) through the lone male character (Israel Broussard), reducing this highly feminized set of events to Sad Marc's weird coming-of-age lesson. It's all rather perverse, in addition to being vapid and aesthetically null. It's all fitting, I suppose, for the subject matter. But then, this begs the question of why anyone felt the need to memorialize this historical footnote to the E! Channel daily log, to deliver this half-assed paean to a demimonde that's much more debased than based.
One final note: this commercial would have made a glorious trailer. It captures everything.