Inspired by the Vanity Fair article The Suspects Wore Louboutins by Nancy Jo Sales, Sofia Coppola’s latest film is an examination of the increasing obsession with celebrity culture that is prominent within this generation of young people. The Bling Ring is the story of a group of über rich high school kids from Calabasas, California who broke into celebrities houses in the Hollywood Hills and stole over 3 million of dollars worth of clothing, money, jewels and designer items. The gang followed celebrity news websites to monitor their targets movements using premieres, out of town appearances, or film shootings to decide when to strike. With the assistance of Google, to locate the home of the stars, the group would gleefully declare “Let’s Go Shopping” as they ventured into every home they stole from.
By opening the film with the group, known as The Bing Ring, being unaware that they have been captured on a security camera after one of their thefts, Coppola sets the tone early for both the group’s methods of pilfering and their general lack of awareness. The story picks up one year earlier when we meet two high school aged girls, Nicki (Emma Watson) and her adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga). Part of the entitlement generation, the girls stay out late and consider breakfast to be a combination of Adderall and cereal. Home schooled by their new age mother Laurie (Leslie Mann), who bases what they learn on the popular book The Secret, the girls’ lives are anything but typical.
To understand how Nicki and Sam go from privileged party girls to criminals, the film introduces us to the two leaders of the group, new-found friends Marc (Israel Broussard) and Rebecca (Katie Chang). Intrigued by the revelation that Rebecca has broken into a house before, they soon conspire to burglarize the house of an acquaintance of Marc’s who is away on vacation. High off the rush of their criminal escapades the pair decides to raise the stakes by breaking into the home of Paris Hilton. After successfully invading their first celebrity home, the duo returns later on to the Hilton estate with Nicki, Sam and their pal Chloe (Claire Julien) in tow to grab even more loot.
The main story of The Bling Ring is juxtaposed with the members’ interviews for Vanity Fair as they recount both the events and their interrelationships. The story does lack in character development as the script does not provide insight as to why each member choose to get involved. This is especially true when looking at the ringleader of the group, Rebecca. Coppola never provides any explanations as to why Rebecca was driven to such behavior. This makes her lack of remorse for her crimes even more puzzling. Of all the characters, Marc has the most depth in regards to character development. However, even then all we learn is that he has a confidence issue and finds it difficult fitting in. He remarks that Rebecca is the first best friend that he ever had.
One of the film’s highlights is the break-in that occurs at the home of Audrina Partridge, who is most famously known for her work on the reality show The Hills. Since Partridge’s house is made predominantly of glass, Coppola shoots the scene from outside at a distance. This provides a voyeuristic feel for the audience as we watch Marc and Rebecca going through drawers and closets in each room of the two story hillside home.
The gang treats the celebrity homes like stores in a mall. They try things on and gush about brand name items such as clothing, handbags, and watches. Their need to be near, and a part of, the celebrity culture is present as they often refer to their targets by their first name as if they known them personally. Their crimes eventually bring the group notoriety in their own right. After his arrest Marc brags that he received 800 friend requests on Facebook and accepted them all! Perhaps the most telling line in the film is that of Rebecca. When she learns, while in custody, that the police have talked to the celebrities they robbed, Rebecca’s only thought is to ask what her fashion idol Lindsay Lohan had to say about the group.
Coppola’s film makes several comments on the cult of celebrity. Especially in regards to the obsession many have with fame and being famous. However, the real opportunity to go into the psyche of the young group of celebrity worshipping thieves was missed. The Bling Ring has some good points, but its reluctance to go beyond the surface level is its biggest flaw. As a result there is not enough in the film to warrant a recommendation.