The early Cannes verdict on Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring" is in and for most part the reaction has been favorable.
The movie, about the gang of celebrity-obsessed teenage thieves from the San Fernando Valley who swiped jewelry and high fashion from the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, opens Cannes' Un Certain Regard section on Thursday. Hilton, who lent her home for the filming, was expected to attend the gala premiere, along with stars (at left) Katie Chang, Israel Broussard and Emma Watson.
But before that premiere, "The Bling Ring" played for the members of the Cannes press corps who could squeeze into a jammed morning screening.
The movie has much for festival goers to love -- glitz, glamor, an obsession with celebrity and an art-movie director descended from cinematic royalty -- but a positive reception was by no means assured given the manhandling Coppola's 2006 film "Marie Antoinette" received.
Eric Kohn at indieWIRE called the director's latest film light and unobtrusive, and added, "Coppola presents a smart cross-examination of the impact of media exposure on fickle young minds. While the ambitions of its young thieves often blur together and lack precise definition, 'The Bling Ring' is the director's breeziest work, allowing the story to glide along with the ease of a heist movie."
Writing in the British paper the Telegraph, Robbie Collins said, "Coppola's uproarious and bitingly timely film feels every inch a necessary artwork … Everything comes together for the good here: visuals, performances, raucous soundtrack, Coppola's teasing flirtation with, yet ultimate lack of commitment to, some kind of concrete morality."
Guy Lodge at In Contention called it "dispassionately subversive and quietly modern," writing, 'The Bling Ring' may well be a morality tale with no moral … Coppola's least romantic and most questioning to date."
Brad Brevet at Rope of Silicon sounded a more sour note. "If I'm being honest," he wrote, "this is a lesser production that says what's already been said … It could be argued 'The Bling Ring' is empty as a result of being about empty characters. Or, it's just empty ... "
And he found a supporting voice in Jake Howell, who summed it up like this: "'The Bling Ring' is an early faux pas of the festival; an overwhelmingly dull, why-do-we-care picture that was must have been far more fun to shoot than it is to actually consume."
But writing in Variety, Scott Foundas (who wrote his review after seeing a pre-Cannes screening but posted it after the Cannes unveiling) took the long view: "When future generations want to understand how we lived at the dawn of the plugged-in, privacy-free, Paris Hilton-ized 21st century, there will likely be few films more instructive than 'The Bling Ring.'"
He also suggested that the film, which is based on a Vanity Fair magazine story by Nancy Jo Sales, "affords its subjects the very immortality they so aggressively sought."
But in a press conference following the first Cannes screening, Coppola said she deliberately changed the names of the young thieves precisely to avoid doing that.
"I'm not too concerned with their reaction," she said of the actual thieves, who spent time in jail for their actions. "The reason I changed the names of the characters is that I didn't want to make the kids more famous than they are. I didn't want to add to their celebrity."
Also at the press conference, Emma Watson said she had a hard time understanding the mindset of her character – so to do research into that kind of obsession with celebrity, she watched episodes of "The Hills" and "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."
"I think there are celebs who create a brand and create a business and a whole life out of other people's interests, and there are people who don't -- who have a craft and a trade," she said. "I think as long as people know the difference, it's OK."
The style of the film is a huge contrast to the long takes and glacial pace of Coppola's last film, "Somewhere" – and the director said that was entirely dictated by the subject matter.
"I tried to make the film in the style of the world we were portraying," she said at the press conference. "Collage style with ADD, no attention span, lots of information. I tried to incorporate all that in the style of the world we were encompassing."
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