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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review: The Bling Ring

Grade: C- 

Verdict: If forced to sum up this film in one word, that word would be "flat." This movie takes an interesting true-life story and filters it through a lens with beautiful cinematography, but the movie manages to feel dull and repetitive, never delving beyond superficial facts and storytelling. 

Films "based on true events" always straddle a difficult line. We saw it last year with Zero Dark Thirty, which blended true events with a mix of short-cuts that strayed from reality, drawing sharp criticism for the exaggerated depiction of torture scenes and their success. But films that don't add details to enhance character development or streamline the story may as well be documentaries, right? How are they any different?

That was, essentially, how I felt about The Bling Ring. The film makes a point not to take a side or make overt commentary on the fascinating true story of  group of five high school-aged teenagers known as the "Burglar Bunch." The Bling Ring is the story of that Bunch, who in 2009 were arrested for stealing upwards of $3 million from famous Hollywood stars. But by simply faithfully depicting the events as they allegedly happened, the film feels more like a well-shot documentary that lacks substance and fails to ask important questions.

The film does give the audience a chance to see the simple but effective means for the burglars' success. The teens googled their favorite celebrities to find out where they lived and when they were scheduled to attend events. Using that information, the Burglar Bunch found the homes and prowled them for unlocked or easily-accessed entryways, walking into the homes and lifting thousands of dollars worth of high-end merchandise. In total the group stole millions of dollars in cash and merchandise from the homes of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Audrina Partridge, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and a number of other Hollywood celebrities. They also bragged about the robberies and posted pictures of their trophies on Facebook, ultimately leading to their downfall.

If the film succeeds at anything, it's at displaying the extravagance and luxury lifestyles the teenagers covet. The meat of the 90 minutes focuses on the actual break-ins, showing just how easily the teens walked into the homes and began rooting through the victims personal possessions. Paris Hilton even loaned her actual home for filming, so we get a very true-to-life depiction of how the robbery of her home played out. The audience is flooded with images of high-end clothing labels, purses, shoes, diamonds and cash. We spend just enough time with the teenagers to feel annoyed at the amount of pictures they post of themselves on Facebook and with the celebrities for how many pairs of shoes they own. By the end of the scenes, it's hard not to judge the victims as much as you'd judge the thieves - if the Burglar Bunch was guilty of lust and envy, it's hard not to argue that the victims were familiar with the sin of gluttony. But that concept isn't particularly newsworthy or groundbreaking territory, and it wasn't enough to justify the proportion of time spent showcasing the celebrities' lavish homes and possessions.

The other major problem with this film is the acting. I've always been a fan of Hermione, but Emma Watson fumbles as a central character in this movie, and even at the best of times she never looks like she's doing anything other than an impression of someone else. Fans of Judd Appatow may recognize his wife, Leslie Mann, portraying Watson's home-schooling, God-preaching, celebrity-worshipping mother, who bears some resemblance to Amy Poehler's portrayal of a mother in Mean Girls, and although she's only in the film for a few minutes, she's probably my favorite part. Katie Chang is the break-out star of this movie, portraying the group's ring-leader, and while her performance isn't enough to save the movie, it's definitely solid.

Because so much of this film focuses on the break-ins and the loot stolen from the homes, the first half of the movie is significantly stronger than the second half. Though it's only a 90-minute movie, The Bling Ring manages to feel long and slow, dragging after the movie's halfway mark and feeling much closer to two and a half hours long. Much like the starlets and villains of this movie, The Bling Ring is slow, beautiful, and superficial. It's hard not to compare this movie to Spring Breakers, which was leagues better at accomplishing the same tone and feeling. Arguably not worth the price of theater admission, The Bling Ring is perhaps worth a free view on Netflix streaming on a very rainy day. Or just read a news article about the actual events and save yourself the additional 80 minutes.
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