Saturday, July 1, 2017

A24 A-to-Z: #4. "The Bling Ring" (2013)

In case you didn't know, A24 is one of the great purveyors of modern cinema. Since 2013, the studio has found a way to innovate independent cinema by turning each release into an event. As a result, A24 A-to-Z will be an ongoing series that looks at every release from the studio by analyzing its production history, release, criticisms, and any awards attention that it might've received. Join me on a quest to explore the modern heroes of cinema by exploring every hit and miss that comes with that magnificent logo. They may not all be great, but they more than make A24 what it is and what it will hopefully continue to be for ears to come.

The Bling Ring
Released: June 21, 2013
Release Number: 4
Directed By: Sofia Coppola
Written By: Sofia Coppola, Nancy Jo Sales (Article)
Starring: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson
Plot: Inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities' whereabouts in order to rob their homes.
Major Awards: 0

For a studio that would go on to win several Oscars within four years, A24 definitely had a curious Freshman class. On the heels of Spring Breakers a month prior, director Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring once again played up the good girls gone bad. In some ways, they were two sides of the same coin. Both used subversive, attention grabbing casting decisions to get audiences' attention. However, Coppola's film is far more nuanced and lacks the colorful exploitation of the Harmony Korine beach noir. Instead it replaces it with designer clothes, Kanye West tunes, and the reckless nature of youth. It may be an attack on these characters' poor behavior, but it's also a film that explores how hollow fame is without merit. Much like Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring was a divisive success. The only issue for some was that it wasn't fun enough about it.

While A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III and Ginger & Rosa can claim to be based off of their creators' personal lives, The Bling Ring was the first A24 film to be based on a true story. It was based on Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales' article "The Suspects Wore Louboutins," which chronicled a group of teenagers who robbed the homes of famous people, including Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and Lindsay Lohan. It was a news story that gave way to real life thief Alexis Neiers getting her own reality show Pretty Wild, as well as a 2011 Lifetime movie. By the time that Coppola discovered the story, she was convinced that some studio had it in production. She read Sales' article on a plane and became intrigued by the characters that were collectively known as "The Bling Ring." They had managed to acquire over $3 million in stolen belongings before being caught and sentenced to jail. She began writing a screenplay in 2011 and focused on the events between 2008 and 2009. 

The film was based off of these individuals, but their names were changed. It was filmed between March and April 2012, financed in part by brother Roman Coppola, and father Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope company. When casting, there was a desire to get big name actors who were in the appropriate late-teens age range. In terms of big names, Emma Watson was the only central person with any experience underneath her belt. Her co-stars; Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Claire Julien, and Taissa Farmiga were actors with little to no experience. The film also featured cameos by Paris Hilton and Coppola collaborator Kirsten Dunst, the latter of whom's cameo wasn't planned until Dunst randomly visited the set. Likewise, Hilton was actually impacted by the real life Bling Ring, but still let Coppola and the cast film a significant amount of scenes at her house. Much like the setting, it was filmed largely around the Los Angeles area, notably West Hollywood, Lynwood, and Venice. Julien, being the only L.A. native, taught her co-stars how to perform with the right dialect as well.

Coppola was encouraged by her cinematographer Harris Savides to shoot the film on digital (he would die from brain cancer before production ended). As of 2017, it is her only film to not be shot on film. The film's aesthetic was largely inspired by mixing a realistic documentary style with the digital incorporation of social media. Coppola took a lot of visual cues from how various pictures of The Bling Ring members posted on Facebook appeared. Likewise, Watson watched a lot of reality TV, including Pretty Wild, to get a sense of her character's Valley Girl-style narcissism. The film tows the line between harsh criticism and having a certain empathy for the characters' inability to be satisfied. With a deadpan sense of humor, the story shows the slow digression into desperation, with many of the night scenes shot like music videos, sometimes without diagetic sound. The film's most acclaimed shot featuring a slow zoom on a glass house was almost taken out of the movie, but was left in after some persuasion.

In January of 2013, A24 picked up the distribution rights and The Bling Ring became the second Coppola film released by the studio. It played at the Un Certain Regard section of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Coppola felt like it was the perfect place to premiere the movie, as a lot of celebrities were walking the red carpet. The film opened in limited release on June 14 on five screens, earning approximately $42,000 per screen, beating Coppola's previous per screen record holder Lost in Translation, who earned an average $40,000 for the 23 screens. The film opened wide a week later, earning $19.1 million worldwide. The film's reviews tended to be favorable, but looked bad for Coppola from a career perspective. With 60% on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, it has a "Fresh" rating, but is her second worst rated film ahead of Marie Antoinette. The more negative reviews also favored Watson's subversive performance, believing that the film in general was largely hollow or underwhelming. 

Even in terms of A24's Freshman films, it didn't perform as well as Spring Breakers, earning almost $10 million less worldwide. Still, the gif of Watson dancing became a sensation unto itself. It is largely considered one of the first performances from the studio that reflects well known actors giving great performances out of their comfort zone. Likewise, A24's choice to focus on such salacious characters in 2013 gave them an impressive run with the Women Film Critics Circle. Having given Spring Breakers a spot on their "Hall of Shame," The Bling Ring also won Worst Female Images in a Movie (Ginger & Rosa had a better shot by winning Best Ensemble). The Bling Ring wasn't able to generate as much attention for its bad girl image as Spring Breakers did, but it holds a distinct honor of winning A24 a Palm Dog jury prize for depicting "a pampered pack of Hollywood hounds." 

Once again, A24 chose to collaborate with Oscar-winning talent on a film with a very flashy premise and a star known more for her goody two shoes roles. It worked out and produced a fairly solid movie, albeit with a decent box office. It wasn't a runaway hit, but it continued to show the studio's dedication to talent and stories that were controversial. They got attention, and they thankfully were well made, thanks in part to Coppola's ability to shoot on the locations that the infamous robberies happened. It added an authenticity and created a haunting portrait of celebrity worship in the process. Coming up next time is a film about young love and alcoholism from a talented up and coming director. The premise may not be as salacious as everything that came before, but it's the studio's most heartwarming and human film from their Freshman year.

Up Next: The Spectacular Now (2013)

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