While most of us on staff were far from fans of Sofia Coppola's last picture "Somewhere" (a film that does have its defenders, nevertheless), the filmmaker is so gifted, and has enough goodwill from her earlier efforts, that we're more than happy to follow her wherever she's going. And in the last few weeks, filming got underway on her latest, "The Bling Ring."
For the first time, Coppola's covering a contemporary true-life story, telling the tale of the so-called Bling Ring, or the Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch, a group of L.A. teens who stole as much as $3 million worth of jewelery, cash and designer goods from the houses of celebrities like Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Audrina Partridge and Rachel Bilson back in 2008 and 2009.
Coppola's assembled an intriguing cast, led by Emma Watson, "American Horror Story" star Taissa Farmiga, Judd Apatow's other half Leslie Mann ("Knocked Up") and newcomers Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Claire Pfister (daughter of Christopher Nolan's DoP Wally) and Georgia Rock, along with Carlos Miranda (Tito in "Warrior") who Variety reported a couple of days back had joined the cast.
As it happened, just as Miranda came on board, we came into possession of Coppola's (typically brief, at only 80 pages) script for the project, and we thought we'd take a quick read to see what we can expect from the project. And to put it simply: it's a Sofia Coppola film, for better or worse, examining empty lives of wealth and privilege, just as "Lost In Translation," "Marie Antoinette" and "Somewhere" all did.
But thanks to the real-life tale, it's also got something more. The script opens (after a knowing quote from Nicole Ritchie's Twitter page) in media res, with the gang breaking into a Hollywood mansion, followed by indicators of their future arrest, and glimpses of interviews by the teens with journalists after the fact. This structure runs throughout, and other than changing the names of the central characters, Coppola seems to have stuck closely to how the true events unfolded (if not necessarily the biographical facts), and it lends the script an almost-docu-drama feel throughout.
Also worth noting is that while Watson has widely been reported to be the lead, that's not quite accurate. The entry-point character for the audience is Marc (Broussard), a fashion-obsessed (and seemingly gay, although it's never stated outright) 16-year-old kid who starts at a new high school (based on Burglar Bunch member Nick Prugo), and quickly falls in with a Korean-American girl named Rebecca. It's Rebecca (a character based on the real life figure Rachel Lee, and will presumably be played by newcomer Katie Chang) who's the ringleader of the group, and arguably the female lead, while we suspect that Watson's playing Nicki, a pretty teen with an ex-Playboy model mother (to be played by Mann) who schools her two daughters on the importance of finding fame.
"Wanna be thug" Chloe (possibly Farmiga's part) and Nicki's boyfriend, the Mexican bouncer Rob (presumably Miranda's role), fall in with the gang, and soon they're scouring gossip sites for the whereabouts of their favorite celebs, breaking and entering when they're away and taking clothes, cash, naked photos and even a gun (from Brian Austin Green, of all people), using their spoils to finance a hard-partying, coke-snorting lifestyle, with little regard for the possibility of getting caught.
On one hand, this is a world we've seen Coppola tackle many times before, and it's hard not to wish that she'd found a more substantial piece of material like "The Virgin Suicides," especially in the middle section, where the burglaries and materialism porn becomes a little repetitive (although that's partly the point). But on the other, Coppola's found a new way to approach the subject, bringing in issues of class and the poisonous effect of a vacuous culture, and there's a neatly satirical touch to proceedings (Mann's character's first line is telling her daughter "Girls! Time for your Adderall!), while still retaining a sympathetic, even-handed approach that feels vaguely reminiscent of Gus Van Sant's "Elephant."
Ultimately, Coppola, even more so than most filmmakers, uses her script as a skeleton, and much of what makes her films work (or otherwise) comes in the execution. With a cast so green, the movie will really hang on how well they can pull it off, but if nothing else, having Hermione Granger do a scantily-clad dance with a gun will get the attention of the mainstream media (the film is another smart choice for Watson, who looks like she could be a real force post-Potter). Things are certainly looking promising, all in all, and we're excited to see the finished film: with shooting underway, we could end up seeing this before the year is out.