The Bling Ring (2013) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for teen drug and alcohol use, sexual references, and language
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Georgia Rock, Leslie Mann, Carlos Miranda Gavin Rossdale
Cameo: Paris Hilton, Kirsten Dunst
Director: Sofia Coppola
Screenplay: Sofia Coppola (based on the Vanity Fair article, "The Suspect Wore Louboutins", by Nancy Jo Sales)
Review published June 26, 2013
Sofia Coppola (Marie Antoinette, Lost in Translation) writes and directs this intentionally vapid piece about the unintentionally vapid youth in the posh areas of Los Angeles. These youth have grown up in the bubble where the rich and famous flaunt their fame, wealth and beauty, and one's self worth is measured by the size of one's house and the amount of big toys they've amassed. It's all about showcasing one's ability to club, wear snazzy designer clothes, and make a pouty 'duck-face' on Facebook with one's popular friends.
The Bling Ring is based on highly publicized true events that occurred in 2008, whereby a group of young celeb idolizers in West Los Angeles County use their connections to the internet and proximity to the abodes of the rich and famous to break into the tabloid target's homes and steal whatever they fancy. Israel Broussard (Flipped, The Chaperone) gets the bulk of the screen time in this ensemble piece, playing Marc, a new student at the 'dropout school' (excessive truancy) who is instantly befriended by a gal named Rebecca (Chang, A Birder's Guide to Everything), who's there for drug possession. The two fast friends love fashion and celebrity culture, sharing the latest gossip about lives and loves of the hot and famous, as if the people they see on the screen are their intimate friends. Rebecca also has a thing for thrill-seeking, which includes jaunts down the streets of affluent neighborhoods looking for unlocked vehicles containing cash and other expensive items they can pilfer on the spot.
Their petty crimes lead to bigger and better prospects, as they begin looking for homes in which the inhabitants are away, and later figure out when a famous person is going to be out of town by reading sites such as TMZ. Despite the apparent wealth of their victims, getting into their homes is shockingly easy, perhaps due to their guards being down living in a very low-crime area; like a well-worn cliché, Paris Hilton actually left a key to the door under the welcome mat. They target the mansions of celebrities they most idolize for their gaudy style: Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Orlando Bloom, Audrina Partridge, and others. (Side note: Paris Hilton not only makes a cameo appearance, but also lent the use of her house for the making of the film). They can't help but brag to their friends about splurging themselves in opulence for long hours in these homes, and all of the swag they find, leading them to grow quite a posse of thieves out to get a taste of the good life. All in all, these little felons managed to score up about $3 million(!) worth of merch -- no petty crime.
Sofia Coppola, born into one of the most famous and prestigious of all Hollywood families, and married twice to famous artists in film and music, knows what it's like to be in the celebrity bubble. She also has seen the rise of popularity among those who feed off of celebrity culture, in which the talentless criminals can become just as much a celebrity as those they prey upon. The media culture thrives on glamor and controversy, and those who cross the lines of decency are ripe fodder to become darlings of ratings-seeking news outlets.
Sympathies lie with Marc, a troubled gay teen who seems to be the only one with a conscience about what he's doing, having not grown up in the same culture of privilege as his friend Rebecca and her clique. The girls come off as amoral and spoiled, not remotely cognizant that their actions are particularly wrong, and even when they're caught (this is not a spoiler, as the film begins with their post-court interviews), they seem to think that they can skate through unharmed if they just deny any involvement. When they finally are caught, they relish their Bonnie-and-Clyde-like fame, not just among their peers, but from those who see them as minor celebrities to idolize themselves. There is an inbred feeling of narcissism and entitlement for this generation growing up thinking that they too are superstars based on the number of friends and 'Likes' they garner on Facebook.
While the characters are nearly unanimously abhorrent (at least I found them to be), the actors portraying them all do a very fine job in getting us to despise them, seemingly without effort. Although she's cast for her star name and eye-candy appeal, Emma Watson (This is the End, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) isn't the main star of the film, though it's a substantial supporting role as Nicki (based on former reality-show 'actress', Alexis Neiers). However, speaking in a 'Cali' accent, Watson's inability to nail the SoCal inflections makes Nicki seem a bit more caricature than character. Though Coppola is a woman, and one who tends to create films with a decidedly female perspective, it's interesting, and to her credit as a writer, how she revolves the film's sole male character as the one the audience will likely identify with most.
However, as adept at Coppola is at writing characters, and in showing her skills as a director with an eye for merging music and image to evoke feelings, there's a sense of weight that is missing from the storyline that could really drive home the themes of a completely self-absorbed generation of amoral monsters that have sprung up in our midst. There's a real ugliness underneath the chic veneer of the lifestyle of the children growing up in the valley of the rich and famous, where values and respect take a back seat to image and popularity. These teens are never shown getting life lessons other than a few token sentiments from The Secret, a self-help spiritual movie & book that posits that positive thinking is the road to wealth and happiness.
In this age of reality shows that push forward the shallowest and pettiest as the "ones to watch" in society, The Bling Ring is more a byproduct of today's culture, shining the light on humanity's treacle, and while their image isn't flattering, Coppola still appears to keep the kid gloves on when it comes to the underlying commentary on those who have little respect for no one but themselves. They don't even respect their idols they claim to envy. Coppola's take is interesting, and the subtext is there even if the thematic material could have used more punch. If there's a knock to the film it's that it feels like a bubblegum treatment of some pretty substantial criminal acts. Still, it's worth a look for those interested in the downsides of the dominance of materialism pushing, tabloid journalism, celebrity idol worship, and the pervasiveness social media outlets on the all-too-shallow youth culture of today.
©2013 Vince Leo