Sofia Coppola takes an intriguing peek into the distorted reality of celebrity-obsessed youths, but the film makes a few missteps
Starring: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Emma Watso, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Stars: 3 out of 4
It's human nature to want what you can't have. And when what you want are the clothes, jewels and accessories of the famous, and you live close to the famous, well, taking what you want never seemed so easy. At its best, which is most of the time, "The Bling Ring" is an alarming look at unrestrained teenagers and their zest for material possessions. Only a few missed opportunities prevent this from being a truly stark socioeconomic commentary.
Based on real events, the film is about teenagers Marc (Israel Broussard) and Rebecca (Katie Chang), and later Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien) – collectively known as the "Bling Ring" – using Internet searches to know when celebrities are out of town, then rob their mansions. They don't fear getting caught because, to use their words, "they never take enough to be noticed." They're also too incautious to quit while they're ahead. They hit Paris Hilton's house five times (Rebecca gives a tour!), and venture to the dwellings of Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, Rachel Bilson and others.
Why are they doing this? Because they think they can. Due to lack of discipline, morals, structure or what have you, they feel entitled to what they're stealing and don't fear the consequences. They know it's wrong (Marc especially), but that's part of the thrill rather than a deterrent. Draw your own conclusion if you think Nicki and Sam's mother's (Leslie Mann) decision to home school them based on the self-help book "The Secret" has anything to do with their rebelliousness.
Where writer/director Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation") gets in a bit of trouble is in insinuating that the Bling Ringers stole from celebrities as a way to become famous (or infamous) themselves. Yes, they steal mostly from B-listers who aren't known for reasons outside of being attractive and partying, implying that they too could find fame through inauspicious means. But the idea that the young thieves saw this as a conduit to their own fame is far-fetched, as they never convincingly express this as a plan or desire. These kids are reckless, not dumb.
Coppola also whiffs on articulating another inherent irony: Celebrities are trendsetters, pop culture leaders who constantly inform us what's cool and what's "in," always staying a step ahead of fans who idolize and want to be like them. How ironic, then, that celebrities become victims of the very fans they rely on for fame.
"The Bling Ring" is, however, an intriguing look at a celebrity-obsessed, social media-driven youth culture and the dangers therein. Coppola showcases the distorted reality in which these people live by using high key lighting that over-saturates the screen, making the image feel a bit surreal. Given the drinking, drugging and others liberties taken by these teenagers, it's an appropriate feel to give the movie. You'll also note how the screen turns gray toward the end, effectively muting the shine of the bling with a harsh reality.
It's irresponsible to suggest "The Bling Ring" is widely representative of the youth of today, though it is fair to say it's a warning sign of a slippery slope. Coppola may not have struck all the notes needed to make this a true pop culture exhortation, but she's given us plenty to think about.