Review: ‘The Bling Ring’ is a Timely Critique of a Generation

By June 7, 2013
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All that glitters is amusingly entertaining in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring.

Watching people crash and burn has become somewhat of a hobby for those embroiled in celeb-obsessed culture. It’s difficult to resist taking a gander at Amanda Bynes’ cryptic Twitter feed or avoid commenting on the latest Lindsay Lohan scandal. For similar reasons, The Bling Ring provides unabashed enjoyment.

When Mark, a high school outsider (Israel Broussard) meets Katie (Kate Chang), a charismatic classmate, he is quickly drawn into her pattern of swiping extravagant items. After poaching a few things from unlocked cars, they quickly move on to more ambitious pursuits, like burglarizing the homes of the rich and famous. Eventually, the pair are joined by their equally delusional friends Nicki (Emma Watson), her adopted younger sister Sam (Taissa Farminga) and Chloe (Claire Julien).

It’s difficult to hold back laughter as the teens, utilizing the miraculous wonder that is Google Maps, treat a string of (often unlocked) celebrity mansions like their own personal treasure troves. Equally amusing is witnessing how their carelessness and need for attention causes their downfall.

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, the borderline parody is based on the true story of a group of teens who robbed a string of high profile stars from October 2008 to August 2009. The group, dubbed “The Bling Ring,” broke into various homes in the Hollywood Hills and stole $3 million worth of clothing and accessories from the likes of Lohan and (on several occasions) Paris Hilton. Much of the screenplay is inspired by the 2010 Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” by Nancy Jo Sales. In the piece, the burglars are referred to as “club-hopping Valley kids, motivated by vanity and celebrity-worship.” Coppola clearly sees them the same way. Countless montages illustrate the teens’ brainless pursuits of high-end attire and their insistence on showing it off.

The Bling Ring marks Coppola’s fifth feature film and its themes are somewhat aligned with those explored in her previous releases Marie Antoinette and Somewhere, both of which deal with the power of fame and notoriety. The dark comedy also acts as a critique of what TIME Magazine recently referred to as the “Me Me Me Generation.” Not only are the teens obsessed with their outward appearance and material possessions, they also flaunt the goings-on of their daily lives via Facebook.

They’re consumed by the incessant barrage of celebrity news coverage. Much of the stars that the teens follow, like Hilton, have committed crimes themselves. It’s no accident that a news segment on Lohan’s own stealing scandal (she was accused of lifting a $2500 necklace from a Venice, Calif., jewelry store) is shown. If Lohan is stealing, why should those that look up to her behave any differently? It may be argued that Coppola is also attempting to point out the lack of positive role models that young people have.

It’s also difficult to ignore that many of those that were robbed were reality stars or, in the case of Hilton, an heiress. Why would these teens think they’d have to work for their wealth when so many famous starlets seemingly haven’t?

Considering much of the young cast has little experience in front of the camera, their performances are the film’s main strength. The true standout is Watson, who has carved out an intriguing niche in the indie world following the conclusion of the Harry Potter series. Leslie Mann’s turn as Nicki’s clueless mother, who lives by the teachings of “The Secret,” is another highlight.

The film’s central weakness lies in its editing. A few irksome scenes that should have hit the cutting room floor were inexplicably left in the film. This includes an overlong moment in which Marc puffs on a bong and dances to hip-hop expressly for his webcam. Additionally, though watching the film is a fun way to spend 91 minutes, there isn’t much that lies beneath its glittery surface of slow-motion fashion shots and drug-infused club sequences. Perhaps that’s because the characters (much like the real criminals) are devoid of remorse and substantial self-reflection.

Cast: Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Georgia Rock, and Gavin Rossdale.

The Bling Ring hits limited theaters on June 14.

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Justine Browning
Justine is a film and culture reporter whose work has appeared in USA Today, Indie Wire and The Huffington Post. She currently serves as an on-camera correspondent for MovieWeb and Cine Movie TV.