Pretty Vacant – ★★½
The anthem that should play over Sofia Coppola’s newest film, The Bling Ring is the Sex Pistols song “Pretty Vacant”. The world inhabited by these vapid, soul-less teenagers whose main aim is to become famous as opposed to talented is excellently captured by Coppola but, like the teenagers it portrays, it doesn’t really have anything worthwhile to say.
The Bling Ring were a group of teenagers who robbed celebrities around the Calabasas region of California between 2008 and 2009. We see how easy it was for the group to find out when a star would be abroad on a film shoot or some PR business and then it was simply a matter of finding the one door or window they’d stupidly left open. Many were targeted but chiefly and certainly the most often was Paris Hilton. She unwittingly left the keys under her mat , which she stills blames on her maid, and the gang simply copied it and came and went as they pleased. Hilton was kind enough to let Coppola shoot in the house, but you wonder and hope this isn’t exactly as Coppola found it. The walls are adorned with every magazine cover she’s done and she even has her face plastered on seat cushions.
The gang started as Rebecca (Katie Chang) and Marc (Israel Broussard) stealing from cars and then moving on to empty houses. Rebecca seems to be a kleptomaniac merely acting on impulse and Marc goes along for the ride, happy to have made a new friend. It isn’t till they hit upon Paris’s mansion that Nikki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga) come on board desperate to see how the A-listers live. It isn’t long until things get out of hand and they’re fencing watches and snorting an awful lot of cocaine in between smoking joints.
Coppola captures the mood brilliantly with all the gang never more than 3 seconds away from their phones updating their Facebook profiles with selfie after selfie. You hate all concerned bar Marc who seems to be the only member slightly concerned that what they are doing is wrong. They live in a privileged world where everything was handed to them and no one ever told them no. Watson is fantastic as the clueless yet incredibly image-aware brat managing to turn the eventual arrest to her advantage.
It’s hard to enjoy the piece as there are too many characters and they’re all so nauseating, with time spent flitting between parents, hangers-on and those not essential to the story. A more concentrated focus may have served it better. It clocks in at ninety minutes but feels much longer and large chunks are boring montages set to pumping music. The joke of their stupidity becomes old very quickly and you long for their capture. Comparisons could be made to Spring Breakers but it felt much darker or was trying to say something while The Bling Ring just informs us about what we already knew.
Some trivia is that this is the first film Emma Watson starred in that wasn’t based on a book, (this came out before This Is the End in America), though it was inspired by a Vanity Fair article. Somehow a magazine article seems just about the right length for this particular story.
USA / Directed By: Sofia Coppola / Written By: Sofia Coppola / Starring: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Mann / 90min / Drama / Release: 5 July 2013 (Ireland, UK), 21 June 2013 (USA)