(out of 5)
A group of teenagers, swimming in the excesses of California privilege, get their kicks by breaking into celebrities’ homes and helping themselves to their luxuries in this story based on a real case. Israel Broussard becomes buddies with Katie Chang on his first day at a new school and is immediately taken by her charisma and lax personality. What at first feels like a fun prank, breaking into a friend’s house and taking cash from under the bed, eventually turns into a regular habit when they also include Emma Watson, Claire Julien and Taissa Farmiga on nightly raids: Google searches tell them when the likes of Paris Hilton or Orlando Bloom won’t be home so they can scoot over, enter their abodes (famous people never lock their doors, apparently) and raid their closets. What is at first a thrilling joyride becomes a nightmare when faces are identified on security cameras and the authorities start showing up knocking on doors and making arrests. It’s a tough sell to get emotionally involved in the story: no one is going to feel sorry for a bunch of rich kids who can’t satisfy their greed, nor are the victims all that sympathetic given that the crimes go unnoticed for ages (how is Paris Hilton going to know that a few pair of shoes from her massive collection have gone missing?), but it is likely that director Sofia Coppola has already entered the endeavour with full knowledge of this. Instead, we are treated to a memorable portrait of a generation overloaded with the information of ambition (the bling, in this case) but none of the motivation for it: ask these youngsters why they want all this stuff and they would probably have absolutely no idea. Given that two of them have a mother (played by Leslie Mann) who homeschools them using The Secret as a primary textbook, it is not that difficult to see why. Coppola avoids passing judgment, instead moving efficiently through the experience (aided by gorgeously crisp cinematography) and getting performances from the cast that do not sentimentalize their experience unnecessarily, but also does not allow the audience to feel superior to them either. Farmiga is the weakest of the bunch (I don’t know how that level of acting gets past grade school plays, quite frankly) but Watson is a marvel to behold, presenting a level of righteous entitlement and hunger for attention that is simultaneously bone-chilling and mesmerizing. It’s an incisive look at the irony of people looking for a deep life in shallow things, but its intentionally shallow nature might be the very reason that not all audiences will take to it (particularly for fans of the director’s more probing work).
American Zoetrope, FilmNation Entertainment, NALA Films, Pathe Distribution, StudioCanal, TOBIS Film, Tohokushinsha Film Corporation
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Screenplay by Sofia Coppola, based on the Vanity Fair article The Suspect Wore Louboutins by Nancy Jo Sales
Cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt, Harris Savides