If you don't live in LA or New York or go to film festivals, you won't get a chance to see Sofia Coppola's newest movie, The Bling Ring, until June 21, which seems like an eternity. Whether the movie gets close to the genius of The Virgin Suicides or Lost in Translation, or falls completely flat on its perspective-lacking face like Marie Antoinette and Somewhere (full disclosure: I've never seen Somewhere and have absolutely no plans to), remains to be seen. The subject matter is potentially intriguing, but it also seems possible that celebrity-herself Sofia Coppola might have a sort of obnoxious take on the whole situation, completely villainizing the mid-level rich kid nobodies who rob useless items from the upper-level rich kid somebodies. For those of us who spent our teen years babysitting and lifeguarding to literally pay for our mistakes (I spent all the money I ever made in high school fixing other people's cars that I had backed into) because our parents believed in logical consequences and didn't have cash to throw around for things that weren't vital to continued existence, Sofia Coppola's ability to only empathize with her brethren, the super rich, can make her films offensively one-sided (see: the total lack of reference to or concern for the French Revolution in Marie Antoinette). Also, David Denby already wrote in The New Yorker: "...it lacks the edge or the insight that would make it great." That said, THE BLING RING. What a terrible and wonderful name for a crime team! What stupid and entertaining bunch of criminals! What a glamourous and horrible group of victims!
In one way it is very lucky that there are a few days before we will all get to see the movie and make our separate judgements about it: this means you still have time to watch the entire season of Pretty Wild (2010) on Netflix Instant. Pretty Wild is the reality show that just happened to be filming about the family of one of the Bling Ring-ers, Alexis Neiers, when she was arrested for her crimes. The show played for one season on E! and was then canceled allegedly because pictures surfaced of Alexis and her adopted sister, Tess Taylor, smoking black tar heroin. Alexis, who is now 21 and has been sober now for awhile, has openly admitted that the entire time the show was filming she and Tess where doing many, many drugs, including oxy and cocaine. Tess, who's 23, continues to battle her drug addiction.
Judging from The Bling Ring's trailer and the fact that she paid the family, Pretty Wild is part of Sofia Coppola's source material for her film. However, it is also a strange and important cultural artifact, somehow the reality show that encompasses all reality shows. When Alexis's mom, Andrea, home schools her daughters (the other daughter is 16-year-old Gabby, Alexis's biological sister) based on principles from The Secret the movie, it is a show about a fanatical religious cult. The girls are models and when, at one point, Andrea (the mother remember) encourages Tess to soap herself up so Andrea can do "a photo shoot" in the bathroom of a naked Tess, it is an HBO show about prostitutes in Nevada or a documentary about child abuse (Tess is 20 but still). When Alexis and Tess go to Cabo, it is The Real World and during Alexis's trial, it is a true crime show. When a bottle of Xanax is found (that and Adderall stand in for the much less legal drugs Tess and Alexis are also doing), it turns into Intervention. The family is simultaneously willfully stupid and strangely prescient. At one point the mom references Anna Nicole Smith and at another, Tess says about Gabby's 16th birthday party: "She could be on Super Sweet 16!" and Alexis replies, "Like, it would be better than that though." There were multiple times I thought the whole thing might be some sort of pastiche, and though the tone and editing of Pretty Wild scream Contemporary Reality, the story itself is a parable about the emptiness of American excess that rivals the documentary Queen of Versailles.
While Sofia Coppola's movie will most certainly be art of some kind, Pretty Wild is also art, just less self-aware and more kitsch. And in some ways, maybe that's a good thing.
Pretty Wild is on Netflix Instant now and The Bling Ring will be released nationwide on June 21. Watch! Tell me what you think!