There is not any mistaking that this is a Sophia Coppola film. I have seen a couple of the pictures she has made in the past and this movie has several of those elements to it. There are long passages without anything other than the location audio track, there are incessant contemporary music cues to highlight anything dramatic and there are a couple of shots done from a detached distance that emphasis how much outside of the story we viewers are despite the close up and the intimate moments. I’m not saying it does not work but I am saying that she has developed a style and a set of habits that is noticeable. If any of those things irritate you about her films, this will not be the movie to change that, if you like the hip outsider detachment thing, than this film will be all up in you.
The story is based on the real events that took place a few short years ago here in Lotus (LaLa) land. High school students with no sense of identity other than those achieved from a designer purse or jewelry, go a bit overboard with their celebrity style obsessions and begin stealing from the icons that they worship. These kids come from privileged but not wealthy backgrounds. Their families all appear to be absent or excessively obtuse as to their real persona. It would seem that every trendy club in the city was willing to have them come in and to serve them whatever booze they requested, despite the fact that none of them look older than 15 or 16. The film ends up trying to be a criticism of the absent or negligent parenting they receive, the consumerist culture and the society that values such empty “things” such as designer shoes. Coppala wants to have it both ways, the kids are corrupt and soulless and that is largely because celebrities are the exact same way.
The audience is given a view into a lifestyle that is pretty much what the media spends time purporting to be important. The one guy in the group is as obsessed with style as are the girls. Later, another guy enters into the burglaries but we know so little about him and why he is there that he is almost invisible. These characters agonize over what clothes match and which club is the most socially hip. From the beginning, the guy is drawn in by their friendship based on his need to belong. One of the very first things that should have been a warning to him is that his new best friend is a soul sucking kleptomaniac, who takes him walking down the streets of their own neighborhood, looking for unlocked cars that they can steal from. It’s a short step from that to entering homes that are either unlocked or for which the keys are so badly hidden that there might as well be a sign that says, “Bored, Insolent Youth Enter Here.” They treat their escapades as if it were a shopping spree, but it is not just clothes they take and they don’t just take them for trophies. Valuables that can be sold and especially cash are the targets that get the most praise from each other. The idea that this was just hero worship gone awry can be quickly dismissed.
What should not be dismissed is the result that seems to condemn all of society to self inflicted oblivion. The punishments that are meted out for thefts in excess of 3 million dollars worth of goods is laughable. I took some satisfaction when the cops showed up and presented warrants and hauled the kids off, but that was stemmed substantially by the light handed treatment that follows. The character played by Emma Watson is given such a light sentence and it results in the kind of admiration and attention that these characters would want that it makes me worry for our future. The fact that the story is then turned into a movie is also almost as disturbing. The film does not try to make heroes out of the kids, but idiots out there will do so because the over the top party lifestyle will seem appealing. Drinking, drugs, hot dance routines, media attention and then being the subject of a movie, it’s easily enough to make the dim bulbs that occupy much of the modern media world feel like they could be next. Take the plot from “Scream 4”, take out the murder and replace with theft and you have a real world nightmare of a story.
Look, the movie is very well made. The soundtrack is populated with music that worships impersonal sex and objectification and money. It is shot to make the kids lives look amazing as they spend the money, live the glamorous life and suffer minimal consequences as a result. It even has Emma Watson, “the” hot girl of the moment (she lampoons herself in last week’s “This is the End”), performing on Paris Hilton’s stripper pole in her homes club room. Maybe there were just too many sequences of beautiful people doing horrible things and enjoying it for my taste. It never seems to be the position of the film maker that this is OK. Just because Orlando Bloom has a half dozen Rolex’s does not mean he deserves to be stolen from. Yet the depiction makes it seem like the crimes are minor and the consequences even more so. The detachment of the observers extends to all parts of the story. If everyone is a victim and everyone is an idiot, why should we care? There are important themes in the story, but every time one of them starts to rear it’s head, another conflicting view comes along to undermine the point. I hope the kids are all good actors because if they bear any resemblance to the fashion zombies in this movie, I have to pity us all.