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Film Summer Guide: Club-going Teens Turn Celebrity Burglars in Coppola's The Bling Ring

Film Summer Guide: Club-going Teens Turn Celebrity Burglars in Coppola's The Bling Ring

Maybe it was the toxic convergence of celebrity worship, hyper-materialism, shitty parenting, and Adderall: Starting in late 2008, a gang of spoiled Valley kids walked into the unlocked homes of Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge, and others, pilfering over $3 million in designer clothing, jewelry, artwork, and Brian Austin Green's handgun. Inspired by Nancy Jo Sales's March 2010 Vanity Fair article on the real-life criminals, Lost in Translation auteur Sofia Coppola's artful, thrilling The Bling Ring taps into the arrogance and ennui of this teen mob. It's not so much this season's hedonistic answer to Spring Breakers as it is a post-Internet-generational The King of Comedy, with all that film's sadness, insolence, and absurdity.

"It just felt like a movie, so foreign and crazy and of our time," Coppola says of the true-life tale, phoning up earlier this month before the film's Cannes premiere. "I liked that tradition of teen movies where they get in trouble, but this one seemed unique to our culture today. It couldn't have happened in another era. The more I met the journalist and read all the transcripts from the real kids, it just intrigued me to know more about what they were thinking."

Though she's no stranger to reimagining other people's work (The Virgin Suicides) or stylizing true events (Marie Antoinette), Coppola admits she definitely steered toward verisimilitude: "I changed the names and wanted it to be fiction so I could take liberties, but so many absurd little details were based on real things just because they were interesting."

Having previously scored unprecedented access to filming locations like Versailles and Chateau Marmont, Coppola plucked yet another trophy venue of authenticity: Paris Hilton's inner sanctum. Invited over to Hilton's house for a party—she thinks it was by Somewhere star Stephen Dorff, who knew the heiress and about Coppola's project—the filmmaker spotted the pillows emblazoned with Hilton's face that appear onscreen. "She let us film in her house, which was incredible, and she agreed to come do a cameo," Coppola remembers, tickled by Hilton's curiosity that a movie was being made depicting events that actually happened to her. "It's funny because she was asking me questions about it, and then showed me the security footage of the kids in her house."

Coppola's research also led her to one of the young burglars, who disclosed that his cohort wanted to steal Hilton's dog on the way out—a bit that also steals a big laugh in the film, too ridiculous to have been invented. Coppola puts actual quotes from the police report in her actors' mouths, like when the Rebecca character (a riff on ringleader Rachel Lee, played here by newcomer Katie Chang) asks the arresting officers about one of her victims, "What did Lindsay say?" That would be Ms. Lohan, who shared a jail-cell wall with Alexis Neiers, the former E! reality star and most outspoken of the Bling Ring accomplices.

Since the film's trailer began circulating, Neiers—whose onscreen analogue is Nicki (Emma Watson)—has publicly expressed outrage that the film would be "trashy and inaccurate" and "just another party movie based on teens robbing celebrity homes." When informed of Neiers's reaction, Coppola laughs: "Did she really say that? She is a fountain of incredible quotes, so I think they're pretty sincere. That's my impression."

Why any of the gang would be upset about their Hollywood moment is perplexing, as Coppola films the act of stealing so alluringly that it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of being bad. "I wanted it to at least start off in a seductive, fun way so you could understand why they kept doing it," the director explains. "I was trying to get into their point of view. When they talk about it, it was definitely a thrill." By the time the judge's gavel drops, Coppola allows audiences to form their own ideas about these delinquents. She says she didn't want to glamorize it too much, even while letting us have our kicks: "I was trying to balance the two without being preachy, but I definitely have my opinion about them."

Asked about the most trouble she's ever been in for stealing, Coppola claims she hasn't been in any. Come on, though, not even in childhood? Unlike the Bling Ring, she's in control of her own story: "OK, I can think of one thing," she says, with a tiny laugh. "But I don't want to tell you."

'The Bling Ring '(A24) opens June 21


The Jackie Chan Experience

June 10–27

Way before Chan was fighting crime with his Rush Hour partner Chris Tucker, Hong Kong's biggest action star and stuntman was already developing a multi-hyphenate career (writer! director! theme-song vocalist!). Set to be the largest retrospective of Chan's films ever held in North America—all uncut, in their original language, on 35mm—this alt-blockbuster series revisits his 1980 directorial debut, The Young Master, 1994's martial-arts landmark Drunken Master II (still on Time's 100 greatest films list), and on up through his latest and 101st feature, Chinese Zodiac. On June 10 and 11, Chan will participate in an onstage discussion, public signing, and Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony for his riotous cinematic innovations in death-defying physical comedy and choreography. The entire event is co-presented by the New York Asian Film Festival, which follows on the Chan series' heels June 27 to July 14 with its own annual curation of fantastic Eastern freakiness, spotlighting social-realist Taiwanese exploitation flicks from the '80s, new Filipino cinema, and a 40th anniversary screening of the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon. The Film Society of Lincoln Center, West 65th and Broadway, filmlinc.com, subwaycinema.com

Rooftop Films

Through August 17

New York's premier outdoor showcase of new indies remains ambitious in its 17th summer season, from offbeat venues (the outlaw-lovers western Ain't Them Bodies Saints is set to screen on a farm, the three-mast schooner doc The Expedition to the End of the World on a boat in Red Hook) to live performances and experimentation. Don't miss the local premieres of The Dirties, 12 O'Clock Boys, and Tiger Tail in Blue. Various locations, rooftopfilms.com

Before Midnight

May 24

Following their one-night Viennese encounter in 1995 in Before Sunrise and a Parisian afternoon together in 2004's Before Sunset, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke still share a beautiful, improbable spark in the most rewarding walk-and-talk of Richard Linklater's funny, sincere trilogy. Unmarried with kids, the now-grown-up leads discuss sex, regret, secrecy, and other couples' issues in the south of Greece. Sony Pictures Classics, in limited release, sonyclassics.com

BAMcinemaFest

June 19–30

Couldn't make it to Sundance, SXSW, or other hip out-of-town fests? BAM's fifth annual platform for emerging American talent brings the best of the circuit to Fort Greene, with NYC premieres of hot docs (After Tiller, Continental, Remote Area Medical), heartfelt, naturalistic dramas (The Cold Lands, It Felt Like Love, This is Martin Bonner), and comedies with an edge (Hellaware, Newlyweeds, White Reindeer). Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, bam.org

A Hijacking

June 21

Danish filmmaker Tobias Lindholm's powerful, slow-burning psychological thriller makes the threat of Somali pirate attacks seem palpably relevant. Framed as an icy procedural, this white-knuckle nightmare crosscuts between the unfortunate crew of a seized cargo ship and the Copenhagen CEO negotiating comfortably but feebly on the other end of a phone. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, filmforum.org

Crystal Fairy

July 12

Chile's Sebastián Silva (The Maid) nabbed a directing award at Sundance for this dark, shaggy, arty stoner comedy, one of two feature-length collaborations with Michael Cera. In another of his second-career subversions of his awkward dork persona, Cera miraculously mines sympathy from his anti-heroic ugly American, who nastily judges the title's tagalong hippie (Gaby Hoffmann) as he road-trips with pals in search of a psychotropic cactus. IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue, ifccenter.com

Computer Chess

July 17–30

Shot in low-grade, antiquated PortaPak monochrome, the fourth feature from Funny Ha Ha's Andrew Bujalski is nonetheless a brilliantly clever upgrade for the microbudget auteur. Set at a weekend chess tournament between engineer and machine at a gauche early '80s hotel conference, this sly avant-garde comedy uses cryptic gags and analog allusions (a room full of cats = the Internet) to address mankind's increasingly odd and graceless kinship with tech advances. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, filmforum.org

The Act of Killing

July 19

Cinema doesn't get much more radical than Joshua Oppenheimer's stone-cold chilling docu-pageant, in which aging Indonesian death-squad leaders and gangsters—who helped in the slaughter of 1 million "communists" during the mid-'60s coup—recreate their atrocities in the name of journalism and film art. General Idi Amin Dada looks like a lark compared to this surreal gut-punch, a powerful, direct look into the faces of evil. Drafthouse Films, in limited release, drafthousefilms.com

Short Term 12

August 23

Handily winning top honors from both the SXSW jury and audience, Destin Daniel Cretton's tough-minded drama about the day-to-day dealings between troubled foster-care youth and their twentysomething caretakers is so patiently, sensitively crafted that it elicits tears without once dipping into sentimentality. Facility supervisor Brie Larson and The Newsroom's John Gallagher Jr. as her boyfriend, co-worker, and levity-bringer are inevitable breakouts, but there are no duds in the entire ensemble. Cinedigm, in limited release, cinedigm.com

Coppola sought to capture the gang's point of view: "When they talk about it, it was definitely a thrill."
A24 /Merrick Morton

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