Teen age angst has been a popular film subject for years, and no wonder: the years of emotional upheaval, budding sexuality and the quest for popularity combine to make movies that remind those of us who are past this age to stay away from time machines. It also feeds directly into the touch of narcissism that all teenagers possess, as they are a hugely profitable segment of the movie-going audience and will willingly pay to watch themselves on-screen. Oddly, this is often in films where they are hacked to bits by strangers in hockey masks.
There is no blood spattering in The Bling Ring because I’m pretty sure the kids depicted in this film have no actual body fluids. They appear to be as soulless as the zombies that populate other teenage films, although they are far better accessorized. The film tells the true story of a group of LA kids who decide to break into Paris Hilton’s home. Actually, they decide to walk into the mansion because it appears as if she has no security system and doesn’t even bother to lock her doors. The fact that the amateurs are able to do this says as much about Paris Hilton as it does the would-be thieves: she obviously has way too much stuff and doesn’t even notice when things go missing. The kids realize this and decide to help themselves.
With the first robbery, you can almost understand this line of thought. Frankly, Paris Hilton is the most annoying famous-for-nothing person that we know too much about and the teens actually track her whereabouts by reading tabloids to find out when she’s gone. But the urge to possess designer outfits pushes them to try other celebrities, and the well-dressed gang hits the houses of Audrina Partridge and Orlando Bloom as well. Soon they are stealing wads of cash and designer drugs from a variety of unlocked mansions and cars.
Directed by Sophia Coppola, the movie depicts a level of shallowness that is as shocking as it is depressing. The teenage gang never once questions whether what they are doing is wrong or right; they appear to have no morals at all. The families they come from are clueless about what they are doing but even after they are caught, seem full of excuses for the behavior of their children. The criminal activities are depicted in almost a clinical way, with Coppola letting the viewer make their own judgement. It’s a scathing statement about modern-day materialism and the decline of the family, or at least I hope it is. I suppose it’s possible that Sophia Coppola was simply documenting what growing up in Hollywood was like.
It’s also pretty scathing on your stomach as the film uses a lot of real hand-held footage to document the robberies. I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it through the film after the first fifteen minutes, but it calmed down a little after they stopped using shaky night cam shots. I would also like to know just what the reason was for the hideous font treatment used in the poster. That made me more nauseous than the film itself, and I am not the only one who noticed.
Moving on to less Hollywood-type angst/more coming of age, The Way Way Back tells the story of one summer in the life of an awkward and depressed 14-year-old boy on vacation with his mother and her loutish boyfriend. The kid is lonely, the mother is anxious, the boyfriend is obnoxious; all fairly standard characters that are elevated by the actors. Toni Colette and Steve Carrell play the couple, with Liam James as the young man who would have been played by John Cusack twenty years ago. The boy ends up working at a water park that looks exactly like every run down park you’ve ever been to on vacation; you just know that someone has peed in the Lazy River.
Sam Rockwell is the manager of the park who hires the kid and steals the movie with his rapid banter and personality. The script is slight but charming, written by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who also wrote The Descendents. It was odd to see Rash act in the film with hair as he usually plays the chrome-domed Dean on Community. There is a repeated gag about whether or not you can pass someone on a water slide, and the movie makes you wish you could grab a pad and see for yourself if it’s possible. A nice summery diversion from robot carnage with nothing to unsettle you except whatever that was floating in the wave pool.
Barf Bag Rating for The Bling Ring: TWO BAGS
Barf Bag Rating for The Way Way Back: ZERO BAGS