Title: The Bling Ring
Watched: September 18-20, 2013
Summary: As reality bending as a Terry Gilliam film
I was drawn to see The Bling Ring for two reasons: Director Sofia Coppola (I liked both Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette) and Emma Watson (who didn’t love Hermione?). I finished with a peculiar feeling: Was I watching Fiction or Truth? Satire or Exploitation? I just couldn’t be sure.
In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Emma Watson, despite her character’s high damage level, never totally leaves Hermione behind. Yet here, the similarities are only surface level. The bright intelligence behind the eyes has given way to a cold calculated cunning. Particularly chilling — and effective — are the bits at the end where her character “apologizes” blankly for herself by declaring that her “main goal in life is to be a leader” and that her destiny is to “save humanity or the environment or something.”
This statement, buried as it is in referential fiction, struck me as true. Not the text about her being a leader (hopefully), but the subtext and psychological reality behind the statement, an absolute belief in “If I say it, it must be true.”
So what is true here? I had to know. As the credits rolled surfed the web to find out about the real Bling Ring. The names had all changed, but the players remained vaguely similar (although the timeline was drastically altered). The story was clearly based on Nick Prugo’s perspective. Emma Watson’s character, it turns out, was based on “real” life Alexis Neiers. Who, it seems, “starred” in a reality show called Pretty Wild while moonlighting as a burglar. I found a video of her to see if the film portrayal read true.
And then found myself sucked down into the abyss that is Pretty Wild. Now, I could only stomach a couple episodes (blessedly free on Netflix), but they hit me in the gut, leaving me with a strange greasy feeling on my skin. Line after line in the film is pulled/adapted right out of this “reality.”
But again, what’s true?
In The Bling Ring we have a bunch of actors playing at being real people (but with fictitious names) in a supposedly true story based on a reality show about some real people warping their real lives for the camera. How much of the show is genuine? It certainly feels like very little.
Other reviewers have said this before about Pretty Wild, but watching it, you do have the sinking feeling that the end of Western Civilization is nigh. We have sunk to new lows. The pit yawns open before us. What is clearly real is that these four girls (or at least the mom and the two principle older daughters) are completely devoid of anything but narcissism. Raised on a diet of fashion magazines and home schooled with a curriculum based on the movie version of The Secret? Not even the book! The movie! I dare say these girls fall in that vast majority of Americans unburdened by basic facts like: “Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States.”
As completely f**ked up as these girls seem in the show, digging on the web reveals the real story is probably far more sordid. The show fails to mention that Tess is already a Playboy model, her undetermined membership in this bizarre family, and certainly doesn’t dig into the heavy drug use and other self destructive behaviors (just google for topless pictures of Tess Taylor smoking a bong, or the pair doing heroin).
But again, all the participants seem to be willing another reality into focus. The “if I say it, it must be true” principle at work. The rhetoric and the actions are completely disconnected.
And equally disturbing is the bizarre line the Pretty Wild producers walk between satire and exploitation. Sure, it’s clear the “actors” are the main target of mockery, but how about the audience? What’s with the gratuitous presence of Tess’ breasts as secondary performers. The show goes out of its way to show these thinly blurred twins at any opportunity. I’m all for nudity, frequently complaining in my reviews about its relative absence in recent films, but here it feels so forced, as do the omnipresent shots of LA freeways, palm lined streets, and that most exciting of subjects: the ugly stucco facade of girl’s house.
Is this art imitating life? I don’t know, but it certainly isn’t art.
And p.s. does no one in Hollywood lock their doors or turn on their alarm?