Sofia Coppola’s new film, The Bling Ring, sits firmly in her oeuvre at the intersection of privilege and celebrity. However, this particular film offers a pointed look at the culture of celebrity obsession and materialism.
Based on the real life house robbery spree in Hollywood, the film centers on Rebecca (Katie Chang) and Marc (Israel Broussard), who begin their friendship taking money out of parked cars and end it when they are eventually caught breaking into celebrity houses. They are joined by their friends Nicki (Emma Watson), Chloe (Claire Julien), and Sam (Taissa Farmiga) in an ever escalating world of robbery, drugs, and bling.
Coppola makes a smart choice for the film, never allowing us to get too comfortable with the main characters (I hesitate to call them protagonists). While we do get to experience VIP LA nightlife through their eyes, the actual burglary scenes use a variety of techniques to distance the audience from the high of the steal. The sound drops out almost entirely in many of these scenes, prompting us to observe the behavior and interactions of the characters with the boutique-like world of starlet closets. One of the robberies takes place entirely in a wide shot as we see the fishbowl of celebrity life literalized in a stark glass Hollywood Hills abode.
The Bling Ring is a film that can’t help but be rife with metaphor. The teens refer to their unwilling celebrity patrons by their first names, unabashedly imagining themselves in the tabloid-laden lifestyle they crave so much. I don’t know that I have ever seen a depiction on film of people so relentlessly materialistic. These kids rattle off designer names and nightclubs like they are the only thing that matters. It’s a Kanye West lyric come to life.
Each time Nicki’s mom (Leslie Mann) invokes The Secret during a homeschool session or morning prayer, you have a moment of understanding exactly how these privileged brats turned out the way they did. All of these children are basically the offspring of idle rich parents who think it’s normal for their kids to be meeting producers and photographers at ten o’clock at night during the week.
There’s a segment of the populous who won’t “get” The Bling Ring, because they are wrapped up in gossip blogs, celebrity sightings, and idol worship. Just as superficial as the main characters, they are yet another symptom of the disease that the film is attempting to shed light on. The film is a slow burn that spends a lot of careful time recounting the Bling Ring’s exploits but it all comes together at the film’s conclusion when Nicki faces the camera and recites where we can learn more about her on her very own website. These kids view this experience as an almost necessary requirement to inhabiting the skin of their idols, just as much as owning the brands they wear. Lindsay Lohan is less famous for being an actress as she is for her legal troubles. And like a snake eating its tail, Rebecca and her friends are less interested in the reality of their situation as they are with capitalizing on the attention with shrewd words, and carefully constructed agendas.
There’s more to The Bling Ring than a film based on a magazine article would suggest. Coppola observes, rather than directs her characters and the results are thoughtful enough without the need to take sides. There really isn’t a need to point fingers in a film of this nature anyway. The judgements are already built in the audience. If the premise of the film isn’t enough of a draw, the soundtrack and overall tone of the film should be. We weren’t kidding about Kanye earlier. You’ll be downloading the soundtrack on the way home from the theater for sure.
The Bling Ring opens today in Philly area theaters.