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The Bling Ring

June 21, 2013
The Bling Ring

In today’s increasingly media-saturated environment there are some who become obsessed with luxury, fame, and celebrity culture to a disturbing and dangerous extent. I refer, of course, to Sofia Coppola. Her fifth film, The Bling Ring is yet again about the trials and tribulations celebrities face just for being richer and more famous than everybody else. Poor them.

It’s true that there was a group of teenagers who broke into celebrities’ homes in the Hollywood Hills and stole money, credit cards, drugs, and luxury items. Coppola fictionalizes this group — in order to avoid popularizing them, she says — and then remains distant and disdainful of them. Unfortunately she doesn’t exactly present much about the victims, so we’re left with a film that’s even more bleak and pointless than her usual fare.

Marc (Israel Broussard) starts attending the Indian Hills “alternative” high school after racking up too many absences at his regular high school. He quickly falls in with Rebecca (Katie Chang) — kicked out for drugs — and her circle of friends. Most of them are completely interchangeable, but one exception is Nicki (Emma Watson), a vapid girl who is homeschooled by her similarly-vapid mother (Leslie Mann) in a program inspired by The Secret. This homeschooling angle, it should be noted, seems to have little basis in reality. It’s just part of Coppola’s way of casting her subjects as silly, spoiled brats with little to no discipline, the lack of which didn’t seem to bother her nearly so much in Somewhere, but those were celebrities, not civilians.

Rebecca shows Marc her hobby of trying the doors of parked cars to check which have been left unlocked, and grabbing whatever’s inside when she finds one. They also throw house parties where parents are out of town, at least when they aren’t getting into a glitterati-packed club by means that are never very well explained. These two pastimes obviously combine when Marc notes that a friend of his is in Jamaica for a few weeks, and they check to find the door has indeed been left unlocked.

From here all it takes is noticing that Paris Hilton is off in Vegas for the night to decide to try the same trick at her house, and again it works. And it works at Rachel Bilson’s and Audrina Patridge’s, and a bunch of other houses. Marc and Rebecca bring Nicki and other friends in on the racket and soon they’re rolling in their ill-gotten gains. Until, of course, everything comes crashing down.

Now, I admit to being less interested in the culture of fame than what seems like most people, but I think it’s safe to say that nobody is as fascinated by celebrity than a celebrity raised in celebrity like Coppola. She does little to communicate any sense of rush or excitement on the part of the gang besides starting to use photomontages of them that parallel earlier photomontages of their victims, which only works if you already buy into the premise that Paris Hilton’s lifestyle is inherently fascinating.

And to be honest, I’m not entirely convinced that the real Hollywood Hills burglars were driven by an overwhelming obsession with the idea of being celebrities, when simple greed would seem to be a perfectly satisfactory motive. Yes, the media’s celebrity culture — distilled in Los Angeles — injected a desire for certain luxury brands, but aside from that all we really have is a group of kids — and some adults — with notable criminal histories presented with the opportunity to steal and taking it. The real story is how easy it is to get information like home addresses and personal whereabouts, and in the age of Foursquare you could tell a far more compelling story without ever involving a single recognizable face.

On top of this, the movie itself is a hot, disorganized mess. The parts don’t really fit together in any coherent style, and some of them don’t seem to add anything to the story. What exactly is the point of Marc’s “dance” sequence in front of a webcam that produces footage that looks more like a cheap security camera?

The clinching proof that Coppola is more concerned with the echo chamber of fame than any thing else is in her dragging treatment of the fallout when the gang are finally caught. The single most important feature — which in retrospect seems to have been sort of a framing device for the whole film — is actually acting out Nancy Jo Sales’ interviews with the burglars that eventually became her Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”, on which Coppola based her script. And now The Bling Ring is itself part of the story, every bit as obsessed with its relation to celebrity as it believes the protagonists it spits on are.

Worth It: only if you want to see the ACTUAL INSIDE OF PARIS HILTON’S HOUSE OMG!
Bechdel Test: pass.

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