Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Great Emptiness

Sofia Coppola loves ennui as much as Gustav Flaubert.  Here's a quote attributed to Flaubert from a letter he wrote:  "I sometimes feel a great ennui, profound emptiness, doubts which sneer in my face in the midst of the most spontaneous satisfactions. Well, I would not exchange all that for anything, because it seems to me, in my conscience, that I am doing my duty, that I am obeying a superior fatality, that I am following the Good and that I am in the Right."

I think that's Coppola's motto too. She seems to want to find ennui and the great emptiness in her characters so that we can connect with them deeper, in a way that almost incriminates us.  Ennui, the great equalizer, so to speak.  All of us are bored and enraptured without having anything to be enraptured by or about.  We're all wistfully discovering that wishes do not come true, but the wishing never dies.  That's the great theme of all Coppola's wonderfully eccentric but somehow very satisfying works.  She finds it in the upstairs bedrooms of the doomed teenaged sisters in The Virgin Suicides, in Marie Antoinette's posh abodes, in the hotel room of the woman/girl in Lost in Translation, and in the swagger and exhaustion of the male movie star in Somewhere.  All of these characters float through life, and seem anchored only by the great emptiness, trying to satisfy some desire that they can't name, only feel.

And here comes Coppola's latest, The Bling Ring, which a lot of people have remarked is a departure for her, but I still see and experience that ennui.  Only this time it seems even more focused and even more poignant somehow.  Based on the true story of a bunch of spoiled brats in Hollywood who break and enter into celebrity's homes (including Paris Hilton's and Lindsay Lohan's) in order to steal property and tweet about it, the movie has an elastic sense of itself, fun and silly and yet tightly wound, meticulously executed.  Coppola has come into her own in this one.  It's sumptuous and mean-spirited, hilarious and boisterous, but still it is full of that strange lovely emptiness that makes all of her movies echo out of themselves. 

Emma Watson plays one of the chief little bitches named Nicki Moore in a performance that resonates the way Nicole Kidman's did in To Die For.  The icy calculation and concentration it takes to transform her British accent into a California-rich-girl snarl makes the performance both arch and awkward, but also somehow innocent to the point that it seems Nicki is the only one here who understands how to survive:  you lie about it all when you're arrested.  Newcomer Israel Broussard is the stand-out, and the only male in the lead cast.  He plays a gay, shy introvert who takes to the gang of glamorous robber-vixens like a fish to water, only to discover he'll be the first, and possibly the only, one to drown.  Coppola locates the uber-ennui in Broussard's performance.  There are moments in his bedroom when he is going through his stash of stolen celebrity items that are blissful and scary enough to make the movie go tragic for a little while.  You see hope and happiness in his eyes as he dreams what these items mean, and as he slips on the red high heels he's stolen from Paris Hilton's house and walks around his room you feel you are there with him, not against him at all, seduced by his need to escape himself.  His sin is our sin:  we all want to be whatever it is we want to be, but we just don't know what it is yet.  So we keep stealing and dreaming. I felt a little Jean-Genet spark in Broussard's willingness not to be fey or twee, just desirous and  scared.

The Bling Ring is probably one of the best movies of the year.