The idle rich are suffering from a deep and abiding sense of existential torment — brought on, largely, by sheer ennui — that we mere mortals will never be able to fully comprehend or appreciate. I know this because Sofia Coppola’s been drumming it into our heads for about the past 15 years or so. Look, I’m as firm a believer in the old expression “write what you know,” but come on — this is starting to get a little bit ridiculous.
I was, at one point, a die-hard Coppola defender (at first) and admirer (later) — I felt the ruthless drubbing she took as the de facto catch-pail for all the things that were wrong with The Godfather, Part III was both unwarranted and unnecessary. It wasn’t her fault that her dad stuck her in his film at the 11th hour when Winona Ryder bailed on it, after all, and while she certainly couldn’t act, she’s also not gonna say no to her old man under such circumstances. He’s the one who should’ve known better than to ever put her in that position — she was just trying to help him out, and got labeled as the public face of the film’s failure for her troubles.
Later, when she got into writing and directing proper herself, I was one of her biggest fans. The Virgin Suicides was, I felt, a very promising debut effort, and Lost In Translation absolutely blew me away. I know the ending of that film left a lot of people — even many who had enjoyed it immensely up to that point — feeling cold, but I thought it worked perfectly. Here, I thought, was a young(ish) director who had enough respect for, and faith in, her audience to let us figure things out for ourselves. No spoon-fed, easy answers here — if you wanted to get on the Sofia Coppola wavelength, you had to work for it. I was impressed. I was hooked.
And apparently, judging from everything she’s done since, I was wrong.
The cracks, frankly, were there to be seen quite early on — both The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation focused on the shallow, empty, aimless lives of upper-middle-class-to-extremely-wealthy characters, and while that’s all fine and good, Coppola has only ever gone halfway with her critique of that lifestyle — showing it to be a hollow, cul-de-sac wasteland, but choosing to paint its authors and/or willing participants as, in a sense, victims.
Needless to say, subsequent efforts like the offensive Marie Antoinette and the if-anything-even-more-offensive Somewhere only upped the ante in this regard, portraying the most callow, self-absorbed, frankly irredeemable characters as somehow being trapped in a life they never wanted —never mind that it’s also one they’d never give up.
Honestly, about the only thing I “learned” from these two flicks is that the rich have never had that much to do with their time, regardless of what century — or country —we’re talking about. So while the going trend in recent years seems to be to criticize Coppola for her films’ pacing and general non-structure, I’m not about to jump on that bandwagon — I actually find myself enjoying her free-form, languid, organic approach to cinema. What I absolutely don’t have any more time for, though, is her approach to her (always, essentially, exactly the same) subject matter : after all, even if a person is born with a silver spoon in their mouth, they don’t have to be a self-absorbed asshole. That’s a choice. And if that’s what a person chooses to be, then fuck ’em — I’m not interested in either them as people, or in their tepid, pathetic, intelligence-offending “woe is me, I’ve got everything I ever wanted and now I just don’t know what to do with myself” stories. Fuck ’em, fuck ’em, fuck ’em.
And if you give us one more movie like that, Ms. Coppola, then I’m sorry, but — fuck you, too. Fuck you for trying to get us to feel one single ounce of compassion for a bunch of bastards who don’t deserve it. Have you been paying attention to the headlines for the past decade or so? The rich have been stealing everything that isn’t nailed down in broad daylight and are headed for the metaphorical exits while leaving the rest of us to clean up the mess that they made. Whatever problems they have are of their own doing. You’re an educated person, Sofia — surely you’re aware for the phrase “sympathy for the devil”? I thought so. And I can tell you, in no uncertain terms, that the devil — in the form of the economic “elite” — has worn out his welcome with all the hard-working people who are stuck navigating their way through the ocean of shit he’s stuck us all in.
Which brings us, of course, to the newest entry in Coppola’s self-indulgent pity-party, The Bling Ring, a movie “inspired by actual events” that focuses on the efforts of a group of fame-and-celebrity-obsessed teenagers (led by Katie Chang and Israel Broussard, who are joined in their hijinks by Claire Juilen, Taissa Farmiga, and Emma Watson — though Watson gets top billing on account of being the biggest “name” of the bunch, thus proving that whatever “anti-celebrity” message Coppola’s aiming for here is undone by her own film’s marketing campaign), who are pretty high on the socio-economic totem pole themselves, to ingratiate themselves up even further by any means necessary, legal or otherwise.
Again, we’re given a fairly half-hearted and gutless critique of the lavishness and excess that are supposedly “under the microscope” here, but when push comes to shove, the ultimate message in this film might be, if anything, even more insidious than we’ve become accustomed to from previous Coppola efforts. That’s because, yeah, even though Sofia actively (and, to her credit, as stylishly as ever, at least visually speaking) portrays the hedonistic lifestyle that our gang of young stalkers-and-burglars are trying to infiltrate as being one that certainly isn’t worth joining, she reserves her greatest editorial enmity not for the celebrities and the bloated studio and media system that promulgates their status, but for the kids who should’ve been satisfied with nearly having it all instead of buying into the 24-hour celebrity “news” cycle that constantly reinforces the idea that they should want even more. “These famous people are a bunch of douchebags” is a sentiment I can fully agree with, but sorry, I can’t go along with the idea that these teens are even bigger douchebags for breaking into their homes and cars, etc. I find these kids to be pathetic, stupid, and spoiled, sure — but I can’t go along with the idea that somehow they’re the ultimate villains in this film, which is definitely what our erstwhile daughter of privilege herself seems to be saying.
The actors, to their credit, all do a uniformly fine job portraying unlikable characters trying to ensconce themselves into a world of even-more-unlikable characters, and that makes this flick easier to bear, but the material itself is of such an intrinsically offensive nature that even the greatest performance couldn’t save it. Simply put, no matter how much we’re supposed to feel nothing but contempt and disdain for these privileged-yet-unfulfilled saps, even on their worst day they just wouldn’t know how to be as fundamentally worthless as Kim Kardashian is on her best. Even at their most vapid and egotistical, they’re still in the minor leagues.
Besides — I kinda like the idea that the Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons of the world were temporarily inconvenienced (at worst) by these kids’ shenanigans. These are people, after all, who have not just way more shit than they need but way more shit than they could ever want, they’ll hardly miss the property that was stolen from them, and their insurance will cover any losses anyway, so — no harm, no foul in my book. The young rich bratty fucking punks who committed all these “crimes” are, of course, all nauseatingly entitled little shits, but I would actively encourage any and all poor kids out there to emulate, and even one-up, their actions, and thereby stick it back to the people who are sticking it to you every single day.
So, what are we left with at the end of The Bling Ring, then? A movie that’s ultimately just as shallow and pointless as the very “culture” it’s apparently “revealing.” Coppola is sending the exact same message here that she always does — don’t hate these people, they’re every bit as much prisoners of their status as you are, in fact even moreso, and whatever you do, please don’t steal any of their shit or try to be like them in any way (even though the media paints their lives as being some sort of “ideal” to aspire to) because — well, you’re just not part of the club. And if you try to force your way in, we’ll make a laughing stock of you and maybe even send you to one of those jails your taxes pay for (we don’t pay any taxes ourselves). Yes, we’re all shallow, pompous, arrogant, empty people here in Celebrityville, USA, but don’t you see? That’s why you’re so stupid for wanting to join us.
Know your place. And stay there. You’ll be much happier that way — and we certainly will be.