By Alejandro A. Riera
Rarely, if ever, does a movie leave me as cold and indifferent as Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring.” Its disagreeably narcissistic and amoral characters should have at least repulsed me; but “The Bling Ring” is so deliberately detached and non-judgmental, that in the end I did not much care for them nor for the privileged me-first world they inhabit. There is no substance underneath its shiny surface.
Based on a Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales, “The Bling Ring” tells the story of a gang of teenagers who stole more than $3 million in luxury items from the mansions and apartments of Paris Hilton (whom they robbed at least five times without the heiress even noticing), Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and Megan Fox, among others. The perps’ real names may have been changed, but they are still getting their more than 15 minutes worth of fame with this film.
“The Bling Ring” opens with the media circus around their arrest and then takes us back to that first day in high school when computer nerd and future fashionista Marc (Israel Broussard) meets “Bling Ring” mastermind Rebecca (Katie Chang). Rebecca is a compulsive thief, an adrenaline junkie who breaks into expensive cars in search of money and then drives away into the sunset in them because she can get away with it.
One night, Rebecca finds out in a magazine that Paris Hilton will be out of town and asks Marc to google her address. Finding the front door key under a mat, they walk in (Paris allowed Coppola to film inside her mansion) and make themselves at home, turning her mansion into their own department store, going from room to room, grabbing a pair of shows here, some jewelry there. Marc and Rebecca brag about their break-in to friends Nikki (Emma Watson, a.k.a. Hermione, in full valley girl mode), Chloe (Claire Julien), and Sam (Taissa Farmiga) who all want in on the action.
Another break-in into Hilton’s abode soon follows as well as break-ins into other celebrity addresses. Looting them isn’t that hard: when it comes to safety and security, most of these celebrities seem to be as dumb and oblivious as these teens, leaving their keys lying around or their windows opened, and even big fat wads of cash stored on drawers or underneath floorboards. They do have security cameras, though. No matter, for in the end it’s the kids own stupidity and search for fame and peer approval that gets them caught as they indulge in a repetitive whirl of drugs, alcohol and partying while posting in their respective social media pages photos of their loot and bragging about their deed to friends and acquaintances alike.
And where are the parental units in all of this, you may ask. They are either absent (in Rebecca’s case) or so wrapped up in their own positive thinking-home schooling-“The Secret” reading world (in Nikki’s case), that they all seem to be either clueless or indifferent to their children’s actions, never questioning them or holding them responsible.
This material is ripe for a Swiftian satire, one that would mercilessly rip apart the celebrity culture that we are beholden to today. Instead, Harris Savides’ and Christopher Blauvelt’s camera luxuriates over jewels, shoes, purses and other items, slowly panning across them equally in awe with the stuff these celebrities own as these kids are.
There are moments, however brief, when Coppola lets loose that satirical tone “The Bling Ring” deserves and should have embraced, particularly in the final minutes when it focuses on Nikki: her bickering with her mother (Leslie Mann brilliantly taking down the positive thinking platitudes that are part and parcel of PBS’ pledge drives) during a Vanity Fair interview, with lawyers and handlers is full of bite and venom and more than makes up for the repetitive ritual of drugs, parties and “shopping” that preceded it. We briefly get a glimpse of what Coppola could have been capable of had she not opted to observe her characters at a distance, objectively. An approach that denies her characters any depth and us any reason for caring.