Monday, June 24, 2013

The Bling Ring [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVclub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review (I. Vishnevetsky) review
AVClub (B. Kenigsberg) review

The first thing that needs to be said about The Bling Ring [2013] (screenplay written and directed by Sofia Coppola, based on the Vanity Fair article "The Suspect Ware Louboutins" by Nancy Jo Sales) is that it does not paint a pretty picture of contemporary youth and celebrity culture.  This is an appropriately R-rated picture for rampant, almost incessant, drug use (financed here by stolen goods looted from celebrity homes) and a powdered/fake smiling sociopathic morality that really (sincerely here...) doesn't care so long as "the good times roll."  That said, the second thing that should be said about this film is that this is, of course, its point.  For the second time in several months a youth directed film (the other being Spring Breakers [2012]) has come out that is so searing that it should be able to cut through even the deepest of denials / ecstasy-driven hazes screaming (1) to parents/authority figures WAKE-UP, (2) to the culture HAVE WE REALLY COME TO THIS? and (3) to young people themselves FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T DO THIS.

To be sure, there have always been films like this.  In my young adult years there was Less Than Zero [1987].  In my parents' generation there was The Wild One [1953] (which the New York Times reviewer at the time commended for being "a picture of extraordinary candor and courage, a picture that tries to grasp an idea even if it falls short of it").  The difference between those films of yesteryear and the two that came out recently is that the older films could be more easily dismissed.  Less Than Zero [1987] was about "rich kids from Beverly Hills" and The Wild One [1953] was about "bikers" (both a relatively small subsets of society).  In contrast, the main characters of the two more recent films (interestingly in both cases, predominantly young women) are thoroughly "main stream."  The central characters of Spring Breakers [2012] are to have been attending a utterly nondescript state college somewhere in Tennessee.  The main characters of the current film, The Bling Ring [2013], come from an utterly nondescript suburb (nominally Calabasas) of Los Angeles.  And in both cases, the young people play their parents and actually even their religion (significant if passing allusions to which are present, again interestingly enough, in both films) for fools. 

What then to make of a film that dramatizes a real crime spree perpetrated by five real-life suburban L.A. teenagers -- played in the film by Katie Chang, Israel Brousssard, Emma Watson, Claire Julian, Taissa Farmiga --  who were so enamored by the lifestyles of today's young "rich and famous" (Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, Lyndsey Lohan ...) that they figured out a way to steal a bit of it (if for the time that it lasted) for themselves?  Well, at minimum, the film should disturb us:

How is it that the parents of these five teenagers would not have an idea that their kids were doing all of this?  After all at minimum, the crime spree itself required that their teenage kids be "out partying" quite late at night repeatedly over an extended period of months (and one would imagine on relatively odd nights ... unless they always broke into celebrity homes "on weekends").  Then these were teenagers, there's only so much "clubbing" that one could do without valid ids (or jobs for that matter to pay for said "bar hopping" ...).

From a societal point of view, I suppose one could say that some of this would be inevitable.  A celebrity culture requires "fans" to adore the "celebrities."  Inevitably, there are going to be "fans" who will take their "adoration" a few steps further one (or even society) would like.  While Katie Chang's character appeared to be less discerning (stealing from rich/flashy people, period), as a group, these teens were fixated on stealing from celebrities (stealing a $1000 purse from Paris Hilton's belongings seemed to mean more than "simply" stealing a $1000 purse...).  But then, honestly, celebrity culture is largely about achieving such "brand recognition."

Finally, to the young: Even if one doesn't immediately understand theft to be morally wrong -- it is, "Thou shalt not steal" is a pretty unambiguous part of the Ten Commandments, and even "coveting" (desiring other people's spouses / stuff) is ALSO against said Ten Commandments -- then at least self-preservation ought to come into play. Eventually everybody gets caught, and the tragedy for those perpetrating this sin is that if one is "really good" at stealing, all that it means is that one's going to get caught with something far larger (and be punished far more greatly) than if one wasn't particularly good at it and was caught right away stealing something much smaller.  This is a standard explanation that I give to kids confessing stealing the proverbial "pack of gum at Walgreens" - Please DON'T DO IT, because EVERYBODY EVENTUALLY GETS CAUGHT and THE "BETTER" YOU ARE AT DOING THIS, THE MORE LIKELY YOU'RE JUST GOING TO GET CAUGHT STEALING SOMETHING BIGGER AND YOU'LL JUST GET INTO EVEN MORE TROUBLE).  It is a very good thing to have a healthy respect for Evil.  We are NEVER "smart enough" and if we "walk the dark side," WE ALL EVENTUALLY GET CAUGHT.

So great film folks!  I hope your film helps prevent other young people from doing something similarly stupid.  Again folks, EVERYBODY eventually gets caught.

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