Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Syrup vs. The Bling Ring, two movies about the image-driven nature of our modern world.
Premise“Girls,” the mother calls in the beginning of the trailer for The Bling Ring. “Time for your Adderall.” And thus we are whisked away into the world of a real group of teenagers that robbed celebrities in Beverly Hills. The teenagers, shallow and fame-obsessed, break into Paris Hilton’s and Lindsay Lohan‘s houses, among others. Eventually, they get arrested for their high profile crimes, and the ringleader Nicki (Emma Watson) gives one of the most sublime courthouse steps interviews since 2Pac danced on a car. Syrup is a movie that has replaced the bright-eyed criminality of The Bling Ring with cynical idea about consumerism and spins it into a fable about selling oneself in America. Based on a novel of the same name, Syrup follows Scat (Shiloh Fernandez) as he attempts to sell a mystery beverage based entirely on image. “As long as it tastes better than urine,” he says. “People will convince themselves they like it.” Along the way, he meets the beautiful and sexy 6 (Amber Heard) and is betrayed by his best friend, Sneaky Pete (Kellan Lutz), although with a name like that, he should have seen it coming. There is also a lot of very thematic speculation about “marketing.” Unfortunately, we’re not sold.Advantage: The Bling Ring
Image Consciousness“America has this sick Bonnie and Clyde fascination,” Marc (Israel Broussard) says in The Bling Ring. That’s right, and that’s exactly what makes this story so compelling. Our fascination extends beyond Bonnie and Clyde into the pages of People magazine: we want to see the rich behaving badly and getting their comeuppance. The Bling Ring delivers on that promise, showing us a group of vapid teenagers being punished for just that. There is a voyeuristic Puritan thrill in seeing the aspirational teenage hoodlums brought to justice. “This product is image in a can. This product could be sneakers, or t-shirts, or glow-in-the-dark headbands,” Scat says in the opening of the Syrup trailer, although he could easily be describing the ready-made celebrity of the people the Bling Ring robs. And that canard of image-consumption is repeated ad nauseam by the voiceover in the trailer. Presumably the irony of using a trailer to sell a movie based on the lies of advertisements is not lost of the marketing team behind the film, but who knows. Advantage: The Bling Ring
The RushThe Bling Ring runs on the rush of breaking into privileged people’s houses and taking all of their jewelry. Based on myriad scenes of the protagonists in the club, it seems pretty effective. In this bargain, you have the thrill of the crime, the thrill of partying with your ill-gotten gains, and the thrills of posting your exploits (stupidly, sure) to Facebook. That’s three thrills for the price of one crime, and when you throw in the fact that you’re young and living in Los Angeles, it almost doesn’t get any better. Syrup tries to attain the same feeling through a large-scale con: the deception of the American public into buying a low-quality beverage. In order to spice things up a bit, we have Scat attempting to seduce 6, who is apparently a lesbian living in Times Square, and a betrayal by Sneaky Pete (again, should have seen that coming a mile away). While all of those things seem dramatic and significant, stealing from the rich and famous is just too good to pass up.Advantage: The Bling Ring
Dubious MoralsThe characters in Syrup have silly names, which we’re going to interpret as a misguided attempt at aptronyms. Everyone in Syrup is lying to each other, all the time. “She’s not even a real lesbian,” says Three (Brittany Snow) as she tackles Scat onto a conference room table and attempts to rip off his clothing. In the mind of 6, Three, Scat, and Sneaky Pete, American consumers are a herd of sub-sheep-level group thinkers who will literally drink urine if it’s correctly marketed. The teenagers in The Bling Ring steal, yes, but they also steal from people that pretty much everyone on the planet would steal from and the process of posting these exploits on Facebook is almost comical honesty. Their morality, while skewed, isn’t as flipped as it is in Syrup.Advantage: Syrup
The DirectorA Sofia Coppola movie about Hollywood ennui? The director is in her sweet spot here but, unlike the slow-moving train to nowhere in Somewhere, she has a plot this time! And interesting characters! Both of those developments are promising and, given her gifts as a visual stylist, should make for an excellent watch. Syrup is Aram Rappaport’s second feature, and it looks a little bit like Zoolander on steroids. That’s both in terms of content and slightly cartoonish, albeit darker, visual style. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we’re still going to go with Sofia Coppola.Advantage: The Bling Ring
The VerdictWhile Syrup shows promise as a slick drama with lots of twists and turns, The Bling Ring looks like Spring Breakers set in Beverly Hills. The salacious content combined with Sofia Coppola’s direction makes this an easy choice.Winner: The Bling Ring
Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here.