Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, based on the 2010 Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” chronicles the true-life story of teens that burglarized Hollywood homes in 2008 and 2009. When High School new kid, Marc (Israel Broussard), strikes a fast friendship with classmate, Rachel (Katie Chang), the two become inseparable partners in crime – bonding over their love of celebrity gossip, fashion, and glamorous partying. Rachel, who routinely steals from unlocked cars in search of cash and drugs, decides to aim for bigger and better scores – persuading Marc to join her in robbing homes while their owners are on vacation.
Fueled by an obsession with celebrity culture, the pair (along with a close circle of friends) begin tracking when their favorite A-listers are away on business (or partying) – breaking in, rifling through belongings, and outright stealing bags full of expensive (and some personal) items. Lost in the glitz and glamor of money and designer clothing, the teens continue to strike one unsuspecting celebrity after another – until one slip-up puts the whole Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch at risk of being caught.
The true-life story of The Bling Ring is a fascinating (and precautionary) tale about celebrity fixation and reckless teenage naivety – as detailed in the original Vanity Fair report by Nancy Jo Sales. Many of the core themes become even more provocative in Coppola’s film – as viewers are directly confronted with the audacity of the crime spree and its impetuous perpetrators. The style of the movie faithfully serves the reckless energy of its teen subjects, punctuated by several flashy party scenes and increasingly frantic grab-and-go burglary setups, moving quickly from one key plot point to another.Unfortunately, the film doesn’t spend much time developing its central characters, which might leave certain viewers feeling underserved – especially those hoping to learn more about the Bling Ring itself not just their crimes.
Certain members of the crew get more attention than others – such as Marc (Broussard) who is easily the most sympathetic of the bunch. Broussard succeeds in fleshing Marc out – positioning the group’s second-in-command as an impressionable fish-out-of-water that’s desperately afraid of being abandoned by his BFF Rachel. Coppola presents Marc as the only voice-of-reason and apprehension, a relatable stand-in for the audience, whereas the rest of the Bling Ring is mostly depicted (albeit intentionally) as thoughtless teenage cliches.
Rachel (Katie Chang) is charming and spontaneous, but beyond manipulating Marc, the character is mostly just a cold and callous face to the burgling crew. For that reason the character, as the leader and instigator, is somewhat of a missed opportunity in the film. She plays a key role in the unfolding events, and Chang offers a strong performance, but viewers are never granted anything but superficial information about her motivations, feelings, or backstory – which means the onscreen experience, at times, is showing a play-by-play of events without providing much insight into what (besides celebrity obsession) fuels Rachel’s choices.
Nicki (Emma Watson) enjoys significantly more development than most of the cast (which also includes Taissa Farmiga and Claire Julien in supporting parts), since the character’s real-life counterpart has gone-on to find B-List fame as a reality TV show (and viral video) celebrity. Watson has been a major focus of the film’s marketing campaign, and while her role is smaller than some audience members might expect, she delivers a number of memorable scenes that should help to distance the actress from her Harry Potter legacy. Her character is purposefully one-dimensional and Watson relishes in the opportunity – especially in recreating actual interviews with a knowing tongue firmly planted in her cheek.
Despite a few moments of backstory and personal drama, Coppola’s portrayal of the teens is pretty scathing – with the majority of the cast being asked to present their characters as shallow and vacuous tropes. Arguably, the characters presented in the film are not far-off from their real-life counterparts, but despite its effectiveness at portraying the whirlwind of drug-use, partying, and reckless personalities that made the Hollywood Hills burglaries possible, The Bling Ring spends a lot of time telling audiences information that they likely already know. Without focusing on the various personalities in the crew, the film is often little-more than a beautifully shot breakdown of the thieving teens’ misadventures – rather than adding insight into their personal stories.
Nevertheless, Coppola once again offers some captivating directorial choices, relying on lengthy takes (instead of choppy back and forth line readings), allowing her young performers to sell the drama in each scene. One sequence in particular (during the Megan Fox/Brian Austin Green burglary) is especially tense – thanks to patient direction and commitment from Broussard and actress Taissa Farmiga. Similarly, Coppola also finds some creative ways to break-up the repetition of the crimes – including a single-shot sequence of Marc and Rachel raiding the home of Audrina Patridge, seen from the top of a hill looking down on the glass house, as the pair scramble from room to room stuffing valuables into bags.
As a result, The Bling Ring successfully captures the culture of celebrity obsession and impersonation that fueled these teens into criminal activity – while also delivering a competent and entertaining summary of events. Still, for anyone who wants to better understand the Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch, the film only briefly touches on surface-level details and few of them develop into meaningful opportunities for insight. Ultimately, Coppola’s movie presents a clear commentary on the excitable and short-sighted nature of fame-obsessed teens and the Hollywood lifestyle – even if the director dismisses the real-life perpetrators (as well as their onscreen characters) as little more than naive and opportunistic punks.
If you’re still on the fence about The Bling Ring, check out the trailer below:
The Bling Ring runs 95 minutes and is Rated R for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references. Now playing in theaters.
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