Writer & Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga, Gavin Rossdale, Leslie Mann, Maika Monroe.
Somehow, somewhere, Sofia Coppola has lost her way. The Virgin Suicides is the best book to screen adaptation I have ever seen. Each gorgeous shot, each moment, each angle was so singular, immaculate, deliberate – a true genius was behind the camera, and one who actually had read and loved the Jeffrey Eugenides book and wanted to give it justice. I wasn’t as enamored with Lost in Translations as everyone else seemed to be, but I appreciated what it did, and enjoyed immensely the performances she brought out of her stellar cast. With her first two movies Coppola proved that sometimes nepotism can be a good thing, because the girl had talent, both as a screenwriter and as a director. And then Marie Antoinette happened. It should have worked. She was teaming up again with Kirsten Dunst from her debut film, the cinematography and costumes were exquisite, and the story just begs for dramatization. And yet the film was a dud. The bizarre Phoenix heavy soundtrack, the wooden performances, the scenes more dead than the victims of the guillotine. The film just didn’t work. Somewhere was even worse. The only reason it ever got made was because Coppola’s name was attached. I put off watching The Bling Ring because I couldn’t stand being disappointed by Coppola again, but after seeing the trailer to her new movie and feeling like it may be a return to form for the director, I decided to check it out and see if it was any good. The short answer? It’s ok. Barely.
I don’t really follow celebrity gossip much. I know about the big stuff if it breaks through from the gossip pages into actual news, but I don’t follow the little petty things. I do this partly because I don’t care, but mostly because the more I know about famous people, especially actors, the less I can appreciate their performances on screen and lose myself in them. All this to say that I was only vaguely aware that there had been a string of robberies in Los Angeles that affected specifically the rich and famous. But the story seemed to be pretty vapid: a bunch of super rich entitled people had a few things taken. The culprits were equally spoiled rich teens. I assumed insurance covered the losses. The kids went to jail. While the crimes did have victims, to be sure, it was hard to feel bad for them or feel like it even really affected them all that much. Given that the victims were amongst the most ill behaved of celebrities (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, reality show people) it barely registered as noteworthy news. So when Coppola decided to make a movie about these events I definitely scratched my head, but I hoped she would be able to find an interesting angle. Something to make me see either the criminals or the events in a new light. I was basically hoping that she’d found a way to make me care. Nope.
The protagonist teenage squad is made up mostly of archetypes, thinly drawn if at all. They all blend one into another, no signifiers really set any of them apart. There’s that girl, or that other one, the annoying one, her sister, her fake sister, and the dude. Helpful? I thought so. One of the squad members is played by Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame. Her American accent in the film is so bad and so distracting that I couldn’t even pay attention to anything else anytime she appeared on screen. Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) was actually pretty good and for once not playing the innocent teen, so I liked seeing her stretch a little bit. None of the other members merit something written about them. Leslie Mann (married to and starring in every movie by Judd Apatow) plays Watson’s mother, and if people like her actually exist in this world (hard to believe given how over the top she is) I definitely don’t ever want to meet them. Gavin Rossdale (yup, from the band Bush and ex mister Gwen Stefani) is in the movie for no reason. He probably just needed the money, poor guy.
The costumes are very very pink. Apparently all gay boys just want to wear makeup and heels. Teenagers suck. Celebrities suck. Everybody sucks. There is one beautiful shot in the movie: as the kids rob a glass house in the Hollywood Hills the camera hovers far away and all music ceases. The shot is quite long and uninterrupted. I loved it. It is one of the only things I loved about the movie. Coppola failed at doing anything with these people. As someone who was raised in this very environment and managed to do something with her life, I was hoping she’d either humanize or chastise the teen criminals. Instead she limits herself to observe them. The end result is a vapid one-dimensional portrayal that is barely different from the reality stars in the reality shows these teens adored and worshipped in the first place. And that is the biggest crime of them all. Coppola is better than that. Why doesn’t she seem to know this anymore?