Film Review: The Bling Ring

A way-cool account of a real-life crime spree in Southern California that trips on Sofia Coppola's failure to take a directorial stance.

The Bling Ring holds a mirror to a gaggle of suburban kids in Southern California who aspire to emulate the wealthy celebrities close at hand in the Hollywood Hills. Based on a true crime case reported by Nancy Jo Sales in a Vanity Fair article, the film follows the so-called “Bling Ring” as they stalk starry names on the Internet, locate addresses and track their schedules, then break into luxe spreads—which could house an entire refugee camp—for an orgy of shoplifting.

The Bling Ring is as stylishly crafted as the Louboutin stilettos the kids covet. The spot-on soundtrack is abrasive and trendy and the cinematography by the late, great Harris Savides (who died mid-shoot) and his longtime operator Christopher Blauvelt conveys a nocturnal realm of glitter and desire with almost no connection to the workaday world. Director Sofia Coppola withholds judgment of these characters with no moral compass and no aspiration but to “start a line” and share the celebrity spotlight with the likes of Lindsay Lohan. That Coppola resists editorializing is supposedly way-cool. But in fact, The Bling Ring is merely repetitious—how may break-ins can you watch?—and takes vapidity to new lows. The film's greatest surprise is the lack of security in the homes of SoCal celebs, while its portrait of America's youth offers alarming evidence of why the Chinese are outpacing us.

What feeble plot exists is kicked off when Mark (Israel Broussard), a newbie at Indian Hills “school for dropouts,” gets seduced by foxy Rebecca (Katie Chang) into a bit of kicky trespassing. This serves as warm-up to burgling Paris Hilton's place after they discover she's off in Vegas, where the pair pinch some fab loot to impress their pals. Before you can say Chanel, clotheshorse Nicki (Emma Watson), her adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and trashy Chloe (Claire Julien) have joined the spree. Emboldened by the easy access, the ring (who in actuality garnered about $2 million in clothes) hits the homes of Megan Fox, Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr. Apparently Paris Hilton allowed the filmmakers to shoot in her house, an infusion of reality that's meant to deliver a frisson, but instead points up Coppola's insider status. In the film's edgiest moment, Sam horses around with a gun they've unearthed that's likely loaded, freaking out her cohorts. Amazingly, Nicki and Sam have a home life of sorts and a mom (Leslie Mann), who pelts them with New Age homilies to trigger the mother of all eye rolls.

Later rather than sooner, the cops call a halt to the party. Coppola nicely juggles the time frame by planting the teens' “confessions” to lawyers and counselors throughout the film's minimal action before they're apprehended. She's also got the lingo down: “Shut the f--- up” is the new manner of saying “No way.” Her ace in the hole, though, is how little comprehension the perps show that they've, like, violated the law. Lying seems second nature to them, though it's unclear whether they know they're lying. One girl blathers on in her own defense about doing charity work for her church and feeding the homeless. For another, the robberies have been “a learning experience.” More to the point, Mark's new notoriety has brought him a slew of Facebook friends, while one of the girls is pleased to find that her neighbor in the slammer is idol Lindsay Lohan, who was “allowed to keep her extensions.”

Coppola has said of the Bling Ring that they “seemed to say so much about our culture today in terms of the things the kids were obsessed with—what they were posting pictures of and bragging about on Facebook.” Maybe so, but her equivocal stance suggests a coziness with that culture. And one can only pray that the ditzes limned in her film say more about Coppola's ongoing project to record the travails of a tiny privileged caste (see the misguided Marie Antoinette) than they do about the larger population.