Monday, July 08, 2013

The 5th Film by Sofia Coppola

One thing Sofia Coppola has going for her is that her entire oeuvre displays a directorial authorship and she has written all of her films. Her motifs include a sense of isolation refracted through a protagonist's femininity, celebrity, or adolescence--sometimes all three. She also has a precious hand at art direction, with iconography and milieus often involving a noticeably girly insight into a delicately hand-decorated stylization.

However, her films exhibit an anemic quality that I imagine resembles what Coppola is like in real life. From what I've heard of her public speaking persona, she often mumbles, appears fatigued, and languidly struggles to make her points (I wonder if she's always like that? Her father, Francis Ford Coppola, seems incapable of ever shutting up.).

So, as an American female filmmaker of personal and original works, she has no peers. The only other American female voice I can think of in cinema to point out currently is screenwriter Diablo Cody. These two women maintain a literary consistency to their work that is responsible, without sacrificing the quality of the entertainment.

Did anyone see the alternate design Spring Breakers (2012, Harmony Korine) poster that this ad resembles? It's no shocker that advertisers would try to piggyback onto a market trend. Yet, The Bling Ring (2013, Sofia Coppola) is an entity that's saturated with themes of imitation, impostors, and moral and intellectual wastoids. Since The Bling Ring operate as criminals who are obsessed with looking good and getting rich by assimilating with and robbing those who already are good looking and rich, they are following the newest trend this summer, as evinced by Spring Breakers or Pain and Gain (2013, Michael Bay).

There are no characters or character development. All members of the Bling Ring Five serve a single function--they steal. That's it. We're introduced to them as a gang of thieves who seek high price-tagged luxury goods, they succeed, and they are punished. The plot archs, but the characters do not. This works because it fits the world of the story. I don't want more character here because it's depicting shallow teenagers who are looking for something that they don't know themselves--fun--and don't know it 'til they find it.

This feels like Coppola's adaptation of the video game Grand Theft Auto. The bulk of the film is a pass into the proceedings for the sake of fun, as opposed to a glimpse into the procedural of why and how they did it and why and how they got caught. Go read Crime and Punishment if you really care about heftier literary crime narratives that pathologize burglary.

The familiar structure of inserting mock interview footage of the culprits after they've been convicted of their crime amidst flashbacks of the crimes themselves seems like a new direction for Coppola, but it is similar to the structure used in The Virgin Suicides (1999, Coppola).

After The Virgin Suicides, Gus Van Sant would spend the '00s churning out his "Beautiful Corpse Trilogy," Gerry (2002), Elephant (2004), and Last Days (2005). Van Sant and Coppola have a lot in common. If Van Sant's trilogy can be said to have followed The Virgin Suicides, Coppola definitely seems to have returned the homage. Coppola hired DP Harris Savides (who shot all of Van Sant's trilogy) to shoot her 2010 film Somewhere, and The Bling Ring was his final film. By itself, this is weak evidence, but the pacing of Somewhere was glacial and the point of view in general feels more detached.

Savides' look is desaturated. There are no strong blacks or whites. He doesn't light for subjects, so actors often walk through areas of the set where they fall off into shadows. And this obviously stands out against the complete opposite look of Spring Breakers.

The production design is the star of this movie. We get the cool Coppola teen girl bedrooms, although the mansions are superbly evoked. It's almost like we're back in her 18th century Versailles.

The music is every bit as legit as it should be since we're supposed to feel like we are hanging out with the coolest kids in America. The culture of singing in one's car is also an astute addition.

While I did say there was no character, I'd like to close with one final Van Sant analogy. Nicky (Emma Watson) isn't developed as a character really, but her two dimensional stereotype strongly resembles that of the Buck Henry-created sociopath Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman) in To Die For (1995, Van Sant). And Nicky seems to anchor the cast.

At least the actors were all actually pretty and young. Katy Chang is flawlessly cute.

While the film doesn't attain the heights of an actual tabloid opera, its modestly scaled case study does manage to show what it feels like to be a teenager again; and additionally, the dangers and excitement of breaking into houses, burglary, and snorting cocaine (for those of us who didn't actually experience these thrills first hand).


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