The Bling Ring had already had a smattering of clandestine screenings before its Cannes premiere last night, in the presence of its cast and director, and the advance word was lukewarm on Sofia Coppola's latest. Though low-key (as ever), it is, however, deceptively smart, and possibly one of Coppola's most complete and intelligent films, perfectly capturing the bizarre madness of modern pop culture.
Nominally starring Emma Watson, it's actually an ensemble piece that features some superb performances by virtual unknowns (notably Katie Chan and Israel Broussard) and, with its shimmering cinematography, makes great use of digital video to tell a very American story.
Based on a Vanity Fair story about a group of wayward teenagers, it begins with Rebecca (Chang) and Marc (Broussard) becoming friends when the latter is transferred to a new school in LA. Marc slots into Rebecca's social group, which includes Emma Watson's Nicki and Claire Julien's Chloe, and before long he and Rebecca are kind of a low-rent Bonnie and Clyde, stealing from unlocked cars in wealthy LA neighbourhoods. Things progress, however, when Rebecca suggests going to Paris Hilton's home. Internet reports suggest that the heiress is away, so Rebecca and Mark pay her home a visit in the middle of the night, taking clothes and jewellery as proof.
News gets around, and soon all the girls want to know about it, spreading their net to the likes of Orlando Bloom and Lindsay Lohan but always returning to Hilton's home, where the famous “nightclub room” becomes a hangout. The film has been criticised for glamourising shallow people but this is really a part of its genius. What The Bling Ring recognises is how, as a culture, we have become complicit in the industry of celebrity porn, and how the consequences will only become stranger. It feels right therefore that Coppola's film does not moralise or interpret, since it reflects a climate of empty aspiration that is so prevalent right now that it really is too early to explain it.
The Bling Ring is set for a July 5 release in the UK, with the US able to see it earlier on June 14.