Directed by Sofia Coppola
Written by Sofia Coppola
USA, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, and France, 2013
The 2013 vision of the American dream is one of grossly vapid and misplaced entitlement, if the movies have anything to say about it. As much as coming-of-age stories like Mud and The Kings of Summer are building a trend at the halfway point of the year, the new age of narcissism is making an equally bold rush on Western cinema: first, Spring Breakers; then, Pain and Gain; and now, Sofia Coppola throws her hat in with The Bling Ring, a deliberately dispassionate look at some famous-for-wanting-to-be-famous kids who stole from the rich simply because they could.
Based on a true story documented in Vanity Fair, The Bling Ring focuses on a group of tight-knit friends in the greater Los Angeles area who bond while robbing the houses of celebrities whose lives are proudly broadcast online, the Paris Hiltons, Megan Foxes, and Lindsay Lohans of the world. The kids—most played by unknowns, with the notable exception of Emma Watson, in a supporting role—are almost never seen at school or interacting with their parents, most of whom are too self-absorbed to even know what their progeny are up to. All the teens do is take money, jewelry, clothing, and drugs, and then party until the sun rises. Eventually, the jig is up because even the most ill-secured houses are equipped with security cameras that spot the young thieves, but the way Coppola presents the kids, it’s hard to say they’ve learned any lessons aside from how to get TMZ to pay attention to you.
With The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola’s back to similar ground that she trod with Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Suicides, presenting a group of disaffected kids and simply observing what they do. It’s easy to ascribe negative attributes to the so-called Bling Ring, but that’s less about how the writer-director deals with them and their actions directly, and more their blithe lack of self-awareness. (A good chunk of the film’s dialogue, also, comes straight from the Vanity Fair article, allowing these slightly fictionalized versions of real people to damn themselves with their own words.) These teenagers are all, to varying degrees, both dumb and borderline sociopathic—especially the ringleader, Rebecca, who doesn’t hesitate to lie to cops who search her house, knowing they’ll find out tons of stolen goods. They’re dangerous to the world around them, almost entirely because they have no idea there’s a world outside their celebrity-obsessed little circle.
Outside of whatever social commentary that can be read into The Bling Ring, it’s a fairly cool and distant story; since the majority of the cast are newcomers, and the characters are all shiny, slick surface, the performances aren’t terribly remarkable. Watson and Leslie Mann, who plays her Secret-obsessed mother, are most notable because they’re most recognizable. (Plus, there may be a bit of perverse joy from watching such famous actresses parody the dumbest faux-celebrities.) Frankly, though the scenes where Watson interacts with the paparazzi, or she, her mom, and her family go through a typical day of home-schooling and praying to the Secret deity are kind of clever, they wouldn’t be out of place on a reality show. (The person Watson’s character is based on was filming—surprise—a reality show when she landed in court for being involved in these robberies, but the movie doesn’t mention it explicitly.) More to the point, these scenes often feel as if they’re totally separate from the main events. Katie Chang, as Rebecca; and Israel Broussard, as her new best friend Mark, are as close to leading performers as The Bling Ring gets. Though it might be kind of funny to see Watson passionately, placidly announce to anyone who will listen that she sees herself as a humanitarian despite the unfortunate criminal enterprise she was involved in, many of her scenes lack purpose, feeling like a phantom limb dangling off this fairly spare story.
Visually, The Bling Ring rotates between feeling as if it was filtered through Instagram and being as patient and languorous as Coppola’s earlier films. As an example of the latter, one of the robberies is shot in a long, wide take and is easily the best shot, slowly closing in on Rebecca and Mark as they dash through a designer house, pilfering whatever they can. Perhaps it’s fitting that the camera frequently echoes the same soulless style inherent in all the self-portraits these bored teenagers take of themselves in clubs. Sofia Coppola may have intended to co-opt a Facebook-era mentality for a story comprised of hedonistic teenagers, without thought for others. While The Bling Ring is compelling on the surface, that’s all it is. Intentionally or not, there’s not much to parse about these selfish little thieves, or to ponder, because they’re content to be empty vessels underneath their shiny, blustery veneer.
— Josh Spiegel