A tale of celebrity obsession

Sophia Coppola's next

A tale of celebrity obsession

Perhaps, by way of illustrating the deeply surreal, snake-eating-its-own-tail nature of Sofia Coppola’s new film, The Bling Ring, it’s best to start with a simple exchange between reporter and director.

The movie tells the story of a real-life gang of reality-television-addled teenagers who, one burgled celebrity residence at a time, became a criminal organisation responsible for the theft of millions of dollars worth of designer dresses, expensive watches and, almost, Paris Hilton’s tiny dog.

The story seemed a natural fit for Coppola: few directors of this era have been more at ease amid the outlandish, brightly coloured wilds of youth culture. And the celebrity-obsessed Los Angeles of The Bling Ring was a world that Coppola, the daughter of director Francis Ford Coppola and a consummate insider in her own right, knew particularly well.

That was the conceit a reporter tried to advance in a quiet West Village café anyway, as Coppola, newly returned from Cannes, where Bling Ring met with mostly positive reviews, shrugged off the notion that she had anything in common with the flashbulb-popping, swag-hoarding vision of Hollywood that she depicts in her new film. She circled the issue a while before asserting, “I’m not part of that world.”

The Bling Ring, based on a 2010 Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales, is a movie that abounds in rich confluences, some intended, others inadvertent. Reality and fiction rub until they generate sparks. The characters in the film hunger for luxury brands, some of which, like Louis Vuitton or Marc Jacobs, Coppola has designed or modelled for. And the fame and easy fortune that the real-life burglars envied and craved has, to some extent, become theirs — two of the members of the so-called Bling Ring, Alexis Neiers and Nick Prugo, were consultants on the film.

The cast includes Emma Watson as Nicki, an aspiring model and actress who sports an aggressive valley girl accent and who, when caught, blithely expresses a desire to “lead a huge charity organisation.” The actress faced a kind of paradox in crafting her character: Nicki, in real life, could’ve easily been obsessed with Watson, a star of the Harry Potter franchise and the most recognisably famous actress to appear in The Bling Ring.

“It was really, really weird,” Watson said. “And that was the other difficulty that I had in promoting this movie. I feel like journalists have been setting me up or inviting me to criticise consumerism, celebrity culture, social media, fame and fashion. But ironically I, in my own way, am part of all that. And so that’s weird for me too, and has its own irony.”Sales recently expanded her original article into a book, The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World, and she also serves as the basis for a minor character in the film, a journalist to whom various characters relate their hopes, dreams or crimes. In an interview, Sales said that Coppola struck her as the ideal director for the story.  The result is a film that, like Coppola’s efforts in Marie Antoinette and Somewhere, casts an euphoric eye on the mores of conspicuous wealth and those who aspire to it. The film is a riot of beautiful clothes and young women driving around in oversize luxury vehicles listening to Rick Ross. The mostly under-age thieves wander through homes as opulent and exotic as Versailles and stand riveted in front of golden piles of luxury goods. “I wanted to show a slice of that world,” Coppola said. “But I tried to not be judgmental.”Coppola has been directing films about young women since her 1999 feature debut, The Virgin Suicides. She has two daughters now, one old enough to wander into Coppola’s work spaces.

“She’d come in like, the editing room, and there’s a line where Emma says, ‘Your butt looks awesome,’ and then my daughter started saying that. I’m like, ‘You can’t say that.’” Both Coppola and Sales said that managing the line between the outlaw romance of their story and the cautionary tale aspect of it has been tricky. “I get tweets like that — like, I’m reading your book, and I want to be in the Bling Ring,” Sales said.

In one scene, two of the young thieves rob a friend’s house, then drive away in the family car. The scene was based on an incident that occurred in real life. “The boy who was the victim in that,” Sales said, “has reached out to me, because he feels that he should also be famous. For being the victim!” She continued: “And I’m just like, what? What are you talking about? Your house was robbed.” She laughed ruefully, and added: “You just want to be famous for what? For having your car stolen.”

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