Celebrity culture has reached the point where it resembles a snake eating its own tail. Fame used to be won by talent and achievements, but now people are famous simply for being famous. For good or ill, you aren’t someone in America unless your name is in the tabloids and you are wearing the right pair of shoes.
This is the driving theme behind Sophia Coppola’s fascinating new movie “The Bling Ring,” which is based on real-life events where a group of bored rich kids sneaked into the homes of celebrities in the Hollywood Hills and then robbed them blind.
It all starts when borderline-sociopath Rebecca (Katie Chang) befriends the unassuming Marc (Israel Broussard). Rebecca’s minor fits of kleptomania culminate when a little internet search reveals that Paris Hilton is out of town.
Not only is her house remarkably easy to find, it’s even easier to break into as she has left the keys under the doormat. Rebecca and Marc are thrilled not only by the excitement of being somewhere they don’t belong but at Hilton’s endless closets full of designer clothes and piles of jewelry.
After they slip out with a few choice items, it’s not long before they are bragging to their friends, Nicki (Emma Watson), Chloe (Claire Julien), and Sam (Taissa Farmiga), who beg to go along on their next excursion.
Financed by the robberies, the group is able to fully live the lifestyle of which they are enamored — sporting cutting-edge fashion at the trendiest clubs and doing all the drugs they can handle.
What is interesting is how neutral all the characters come off. Coppola works hard to never portray them as heroes, villains, or victims, but instead as an inevitable part of the feedback loop in a celebrity-obsessed society.
The teens are accountable to no one and receive no parenting or direction from their parents, who are just as shallow and vacuous. Leslie Mann plays Nicki’s clueless mother, who ensures all her girls are dosed with Xanax and home-schools them on the aspirational qualities of Angelina Jolie.
Even the celebrity “victims” come off looking bad for the obscene amount of excess they fill their homes with combined with the aloof arrogance of invincibility shown by the fact that most of the time they don’t even lock their doors.
Coppola is a gifted director and she keeps the movie moving along with some inspired moments including a static exterior shot of one of the robberies taking place in what is essentially a glass home. (Feel free to come up with your own “throwing stones” tie-in).
I think the movie’s neutral tone has a lot to do with Coppola’s own experience as the daughter of privilege and growing up in a home full of celebrates. She’s lived this story from both sides and knows there is blood on everyone’s hands.
The only flaw to be found in “The Bling Ring” is a problem inherent in the source material. When dealing with a subject so shallow and petty, it’s pretty hard to dig as deep as Coppola tries to. If you’re looking for profundity, you’re not going to find it in the Hollywood Hills.
Even still, this is an expertly made film that boasts fine performances from all the members of the young cast.
The biggest thing I took away from “The Bling Ring” is while it is really easy to shake your head at these kids and their lifestyle, we are all guilty of poking our nose into it to some degree or another. Whether you like it or not, you know that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West just had a baby. Welcome to the club.
“The Bling Ring” is rated R for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references.