On The Rise :: Katie Chang (from ’the Bling Ring’)
The Bling Ring is a sad film. Because it’s not about parties, or about selfies, or about electronic music, or about snatching extremely expensive designer clothes from celebrities, even if that’s what Sofia Coppola spends her time depicting. That’s just the surface. It’s about the fact that, for these kids, for these characters, there is nothing else but those activities.
Nothing follows the parties, nothing happens after they take the pictures. They live lives defined by pleasure seeking, rather than pleasure. "I think, doing this film, [Sofia Coppola] is trying to send out a message," claimed Katie Chang, who plays the lead in the film. "She’s like, ’guys, get it together!’"
Chang, at a glance, couldn’t be further removed from the film, or from her character. She fought through an audience Q&A held the night before at a screening with a fading, almost non-existent voice, and it didn’t sound much better the next day. But she loves the film she starred in, clearly, and toughed through the apparent illness to sell it. "Hopefully the positive side - maybe - will be the reaction the audience has," she noted, arguing that the film isn’t a completely depressing experience. "[The movie] should be sobering."
Too cool for the critics?
On that note, "The Bling Ring" hasn’t received overwhelming critical support. It’s got a near-failing grade on Rotten Tomatoes, and even its champions are rarely impassioned. Mrs. Coppola’s cool detachment, for better or worse, has caught much of the brunt.
"The cool thing about Sofia is that she doesn’t hold your hand," Chang notes, implicitly disagreeing with her critics. Indeed, Coppola leaves you to think about her films; she doesn’t think about them for you; and that’s likely where the audience disconnect - perhaps, even, where audience apathy - originates from.
"She gives you just a little bit to go on, for any of the characters. You could bring up any topic [in a film,] and she’ll give you a little bit of it, but make sure to leave you wanting more. It’s this weird psychological thing."
It’s a particularly pronounced conceit in this, Coppola’s fifth, and perhaps most ambitious, film. The group of friends depicted by Chang, Emma Watson, and the crew, are hardly friends at all. "I think, you know, maybe they hang out and get food and talk about somebody’s boyfriend off-screen at some point, sure," Chang joked, alluding to the anti-social nature of her social-networking character. "But there’s not really an organic connection between the kids - it’s just a group... The vapidness is what makes it so compelling."
Cuts close to the bone
Chang’s performance cuts through the film with a searing, gold-plated edge; she oozes unearned privilege with every look. She’s already worked on her next picture - she’ll feature along Sir Ben Kingsley, among others - but it’s clear her connection to her "Bling Ring" character was about more than experience, or exposure. "Absolutely. I think we all had that moment. We’d look at all these things we’re going to play with, ’Oh my god, this is amazing, I’m casually holding a $5,000 pair of shoes.’"
Part of what’s made the film so polarizing is likely how close to the bone it cuts - "The Bling Ring" sees us as selfish, uncommunicative, and extremely materialistic. And it makes us look good while we do it, too. It creates a startling dissonance.
"For example, there’s barely any sex in our movie," Chang continues, remembering, to comic effect, how much that bothered the domestic French press when they premiered the film in Cannes.
"And it’s all about kids, and normally when you make a movie about kids, there’s a lot of that aspect. But there’s just a little bit - enough that you’re aware of it, but not enough to make it overwhelming. And I think that’s what Sofia wanted to do," she said. "I think she wanted to be specific with these kids, I think she wants you thinking ’I want more,’ and she’s not going to give it to you."
As for that next picture, it is the up-coming "Birder’s Guide to Everything," a coming-of-age story where she plays an avid birdwatcher and photographer. But her acting career may be put on hold over the next few years: she heads to Columbia University in the fall, at least according to her Wiki entry.