Sofia Coppola's "Bling Ring" Thoroughly Yawn-Worthy

In the hazy wake of Sofia Coppola’s latest, I’ve been forced to reassess my thoughts on paint. More specifically, the act of watching paint dry. Has it gotten a bad rap? It’s the go-to cliché for all things uninteresting, but in reality, drying paint is an agent of change. It’s not the most glamorous part of the painting process, but it’s important nonetheless. “The Bling Ring,” on the other hand, begins at point A and ends at point A, leaving the viewer with virtually nothing to show for his or her 90 minutes. No rooms have been transformed. No physical activity has taken place. No clothes have been given character through random splotches of color. You’re left with a crumpled ticket stub and a slight dip in cognitive function. And, of course, a lighter wallet.

Based on a Vanity Fair article, “The Bling Ring” outlines the true story of a group of teenagers who, in 2008 and 2009, robbed the homes of various celebrities – Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan among them. To call the film’s characters vacuous would be to suggest they actually possess discernible personality traits. In reality, each of them is blank slate for the entirety of the film, entering our lives as brief descriptions on a casting call sheet and leaving as less than that.

Emma Watson plays Nicki, who’s easily the most charismatic of the bunch, if only because of the actress’ relative star power. Katie Chang portrays the dead-eyed Rebecca, the de facto ringleader of the group, while Israel Broussard plays Marc, the troupe’s only male. Leslie Mann has a brief supporting role as Nicki’s mother, her devotion to the self-help book “The Secret” being the only vaguely funny thing in the picture. Gavin Rossdale, husband of Gwen Stefani and frontman of the rote post-grunge band Bush, makes an odd but wholly insignificant appearance as a corrupt club owner.

The titular ring of criminals spends most of their post-breaking-and-entering time trying on clothes and fishing through drawers for cash, only to rinse and repeat. We’re left with some semblance of a throughline as Marc and others narrate the proceedings, ostensibly post-arrest, but the narrative is so ineffectual and the character development so weak that it’s next to impossible to appreciate Coppola’s handful of interesting creative choices. For example, a late game shift to satire on the part of Watson and her character is welcome, but since most of her screen time is played straight – disastrously so – the impact of her third act turn is blunted.

That Sofia Coppola could fall this hard in less than a decade (the wonderful “Lost In Translation” came out in 2003) is a mystery. Her visual instincts are mostly intact, but the lack of depth here is alarming. And perhaps that’s the point, but it’s not a point that many will take too kindly to in the form of a 90-minute video essay. Many of today’s teenagers are incomparably stupid. We get it. But is it a cultural stipulation that our youth fall in love with the ideas of wealth and celebrity? That’s a far more interesting question than anything the film attempts to broach.

This year’s “Spring Breakers” tackled a similar topic to far more lively and subversive results, making “The Bling Ring” even more obsolete than it inherently is. At best, the picture can be written off as some kind of failed experiment, a competition to see which cast member is the most in tune with his or her inner dolt. If this project is indicative of where Sofia Coppola’s career is headed, I fear that her surname has finally gone to her head. It’s one thing to make a pointless film and it’s another to make a boring one. But letting those two qualities intersect is, to say the least, inadvisable. “The Bling Ring” isn’t the worst film of 2013, but it’s the longest 90 minutes I’ve spent in a theater in ages. And with that, I have some paint to watch.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: June 14, 2013
Studio: A24
Director: Sofia Coppola
Screenwriter: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Georgia Rock, Gavin Rossdale
MPAA Rating: R (for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references)