Between October 2008 and August 2009, a handful of teenagers stole more the $3 million worth of clothes, jewelry, cash and other belongings from the homes of several L.A.-based celebrities – Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Megan Fox among them. The operation (if you can even call it that) was astonishingly simple: the teens would wait until they knew the targeted celebrity was out of town, then they would simply go to their house, enter through an unlocked door and steal stuff.
Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring offers a glossy-but-concise dramatization of these events. The names of the teenagers have been changed, but the celebrity names and the details of the crimes remain the same. At times, the nature of the subject matter makes it feel like the airiest and least substantial movie Coppola has made: an exploding glitter ball of a film spotlighting fashion-savvy but otherwise brain-dead teenagers living in a world defined by the ever-shifting whims of TMZ, Cosmopolitan and Victoria's Secret. There are moments when The Bling Ring feels like a preachy “kids these days” movie, and other moments in which it feels like an exercise in surface-level style. Eventually, you realize that it's actually more of a nature documentary, capturing the nuances of a vapid subculture with amoral precision. It's fun and appalling in roughly equal measure, though the balance will likely be tipped one way or the other by your affection for designer fashion and Rick Ross tunes.
Most of the thieves are teenage girls: thin, popular and certain that their future involves some combination of acting and modeling. The group's de facto leader is Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang, A Birder's Guide to Everything), who generally seems the least concerned and most enthusiastic about doing dangerous things. Her boyfriend is a shy, sweet-natured guy named Marc (Israel Broussard, Earth to Echo), who kinda-sorta knows that Rebecca is out of his league but ignores the possibility – well, probability – that she's using him for personal gain. He's the only guy in a group otherwise comprised of cool girls, and he doesn't want to jeopardize that position. What he doesn't realize is that he's the doomed protagonist of a shimmering daylight noir.
For the most part, the girls are indistinguishable from each other, perhaps because they're all so obsessively devoted to the same fashion trends. They use the words “bitch” and “slut” as casual greetings, they litter Facebook with an endless stream of alcohol-and-duckface selfies, they use cigarettes as fashion accessories, they blast radio-friendly hip-hop in the expensive cars their parents bought them and the phrase “that's hot” is repeated so often that it begins to feel like its own two-word language. Coppola cranks up her soundtrack selections (expertly curated by Brian Reitzell) - the jagged sirens of Sleigh Bells' “Crown on the Ground,” the “Turning Japanese” vigor of Phoenix's “Entertainment,” the catchy hip-pop chorus of M.I.A.'s “Bad Girls,” the anthemic bombast of Kanye West's “Power” - and permits them to transform large chunks of the film into a swaggering music video.
Rebecca and Marc are the film's central characters, but the most intriguing one is Nicki (a sneakily good Emma Watson, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). She's a homeschooler who half-listens to the daily lessons (a nonsensical hodgepodge of celebrity worship and excerpts from The Secret) provided by her ditzy but well-intentioned mother (Leslie Mann, This is 40), and she casually regards her eventual arrest as a positive path to celebrity. Nicki is stupid by any conventional standard, but she also knows exactly what it takes to get ahead in the modern world. I suspect that part of the reason people like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian are so widely despised is that they've found wild success without developing any of the skills you're “supposed” to develop to be successful. The girls steal from Paris Hilton not because they think she deserves it, but because they want to be her. Like Tony Montana, they've become convinced that the world is theirs, and all they have to do is reach out and take it. They might be right.
The Bling Ring
Rating: ★★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 92 minutes
Release Year: 2013