Movie review by Greg Carlson
Inspired by Nancy Jo Sales’ “Vanity Fair” article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” Sofia Coppola’s fifth feature “The Bling Ring” observes the larcenous practices of a group of young California burglars who took advantage of lax security at the homes of several celebrity victims, including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, and Orlando Bloom. Already dramatized in 2011 as a Lifetime movie with the same title, the story provides Coppola with another opportunity to develop several themes that recur in her films: the distance between fame and anonymity, the difficulty of attaining personal fulfillment through material possessions in the absence of self-reflection, and the transition from youth to maturity.
Opening with the infectious beat and blare of Sleigh Bells’ “Crown on the Ground” to underscore a heist in progress, “The Bling Ring” uses music as perfectly as each of Coppola’s movies, thanks to the director’s own expertise and the ear of regular collaborator Brian Reitzell. Like the decadent pastel bon bons, petits fours, millinery, footwear, and couture that decorated Marie Antoinette’s chambers in Coppola’s vision of pre-revolution French court life, the designer handbags, sunglasses, mini-dresses, and jewelry pawed and pilfered by the Bling Ring signify the craving for acquisition-based affluence and serve as a reminder that collected objects are no substitute for genuine personal relationships.
This idea was more effectively explored by Coppola in “Lost in Translation” and “Somewhere,” principally because key points of view in those movies belonged to the wealthy insiders confined by their privilege rather than the narcissistic wannabes of “The Bling Ring,” whose constant exposure to social media and reliance on reality television and prescription medication has instilled a longing to hoard the status symbols and taste the notoriety of those oft-photographed and over-documented beautiful people who are, for the most part, famous for being famous.
With the exception of Israel Broussard’s Marc, who is based on Nick Prugo, the inner circle of thieves is comprised of several young women, most notably Marc’s new bestie and robbery ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) and the absurdly insensitive Nicki (Emma Watson). Coppola is far more sympathetic to Marc than Sales’ description of Prugo in the expanded movie tie-in book, but it is the casting of Watson that yields a real return on investment. Watson brings with her a level of preconceived audience goodwill that offsets the indelicacy of her charmless, venal, mean girl with an addiction to clubbing and duck lip selfies. She nails the shallow, SoCal-speak, deadpanning many of the best lines, including “I want to lead a country one day for all I know,” which Sales claims Watson’s real life counterpart Alexis Neiers actually said.
Showing restraint that has confounded some critics hoping for evidence of a clearer moral position or a more cutting satire, Coppola refrains from passing judgment on the Bling Ring’s aspiring Bad Girls/Super Rich Kids, but one wonders whether the filmmaker missed an opportunity for a deeper examination of class and race by omitting any character directly based on the undocumented immigrant Diana Tamayo, one of the original members of the Bling Ring. Since the film depends in some measure on the “authenticity” of its true-to-life sources, embedded in the ready-made publicity of Coppola obtaining permission to shoot inside Paris Hilton’s Hollywood Hills house, the addition of Tamayo’s part of the saga may have added another evocative layer.