– Summary –
Director : Sofia Coppola
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Mann, Georgie Rock, Carlos Miranda, Gavin Rossdale.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: A group of high-school teens set about stealing from the unlocked and unguarded houses of rich and famous celebrities.
What we think : Uneven doco-drama retells infamous events circa 2009, but does little to make them entertaining. Emma Watson’s on the bill, although she does little to drive the story other than bump and grind her way through multiple parties and sit-in’s at celebrity houses. Frankly, The Bling Ring has little by way of shock value other than just how easy it is to break into celebrity homes (apparently), while the characters don’t ever seem to feel the consequential shame of their anti-social behavior, leaving it feeling strangely empty and ineffective as a cautionary tale.
Note to self; lock the doors after I leave the house.
The Bling Ring bases itself on the real life events which took place in Calabasas County, California (just to the north of Malibu, folks) over 6 months in 2008-09, which saw a group of high-school teens go on a crime spree through the houses of some rich and famous celebrities, including Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloon & Miranda Kerr, and The Hills actress Audrina Patridge. In each case, the group accesses the houses of these celebs by either scaling fences and walking in through unlocked doors, or walking right up to the front door and opening it with the keys hiding under the doormat. It’s bizarre that such wealthy people would leave themselves so open to theft, then again it’s hardly surprising that they really worried, considering their wealth anyway. The “Bling Ring” was widely reported throughout 2009, when the case broke, with ringleader Rachel Lee becoming a pseudo-celebrity in her own right after she served her jail time. It comes as no surprise that Hollywood would come a-knocking, with Lost In Translation director Sophia Coppola writing the script; The Bling Ring is based on the Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”. Since it’s based on true events, and given Coppola’s renowned ethereal style, could one expect a literal translation and recreation of events, or would she bring her unique skewed vision to the story?
Marc Hall (Isral Broussard) moves to a school in affluent neighborhood of Calabasas, where he befriends Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang); after a party, Marc and Rebecca go walking the street looking for unlocked cars from which to steal property. Marc mentions a wealthy friend he has who is out of town, and Katie convinces him that they should go to their house while they’re away and see what they can take. Stealing a quantity of valuable fashion accessories, and even the Porche sitting in the driveway, the fact they aren’t caught gives Rebecca more desire to take things to better her life; they find that LA socialite Paris Hilton is out of town, and decide to go to her house for a look. Breaking in (almost too easily), the pair find themselves inside a fashionista’s Shangri La, with clothes, shoes and other valuable accessories (mostly name brands) from which they plunder at will. Rebecca and Marc tell their girlfriends, Nikki (Emma Watson), Chloe (Claire Julien) and Nikki’s sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and the next evening they all go to Paris’ house for a party, and to steal stuff. Armed with cash and an ever-expanding wardrobe of clothing, the friends become more daring, finding other celebrity homes to break into and steal more and more stuff. However, the net is closing around them, as security video and tips to the police soon bring the law knocking down their glitzy, party-hard lifestyles.
The Bling Ring is one of those films that frustrates in equal amounts as it entertains. I’d hardly call this film “cutting edge” or even that well made, even though Sophia Coppola’s pedigree cannot be faulted by her past achievements. There’s something about The Bling Ring that just doesn’t work, and whether it’s the script (or lack thereof), the attitudes of the characters and indifferent social moralizing the film achieves, or the guilt-free nature of what transpires, but it managed to annoy me more than keep me interested. Fundamentally, a film like this sells itself; a bunch of teens go on a crime spree and eventually get caught, but this film is decidedly euphoric in seeming sorry that they had to get caught – sure we’d all like to live the vicarious fantasy, but in line with the lack of genuinely interesting characters or structured narrative plot, The Bling Ring suffers a fatal lack of idea of what it’s trying to say. It’s haphazard, really.
Coppola’s script is hardly exciting. The characters are all teenage high-life wannabe-socialites, especially ringleader Rebecca (in real life, this character was one Rachel Lee, so the names have been changed to obscure them, which begs the question of why this was done…) who seems to just fall into this life, dragging Marc along for the ride. Yet the film tries to make her into some kind of sociopath, a desperate celebrity wannabe without compassion, almost psychopathic tendencies to lie and steal simply to be someone she’s not. Marc’s the gay friend who doesn’t mind all this crime (he does, but doesn’t mind the outcome) and Israel Broussard is pleasant enough to watch in the role. But the film never really develops any of the people in this story, beyond being vacuous, naive and somewhat arrogant teens looking for a kick out of stealing from those who have more than they need. Is Coppola trying to say something about the absence of authority in today’s youth? Is this film an indictment on lax security services around the Los Angeles area? Or is the film simply trying to glorify the thrill of the crime? Frankly, I’m inclined to think the latter, rather than any of the former. The Bling Ring spends much of its time showing us how stupid and selfish these teens are, and I was almost begging for the cops to show up and catch them with half the film still to run. The sheer gall of these kids to do what they did is stunning, yet The Bling Ring takes the low road of less resistance, never once trying to goad us into a sense of what drives these kids to do this, other than boredom and jealousy.
The Bling Ring’s lack of impetus works against the story. The film never garners excitement or thrills, never engenders outrage, nor does the eventual takedown and trial of the group even raise the pulse with tense excitement; Coppola’s matter-of-fact film-making style here just seems to wander through the story, documentary like, eliciting almost zero emotion from me as I watched. Perhaps I’m not the target audience? I doubt that, because the whole film feels like a cautionary tale about leaving your front door unlocked, no matter how rich you are. The fact the production obtained permission to film in some of the real locations (such as Paris Hilton’s actual mansion, which serves as a major setting in the film) adds some legitimacy to its lackadaisical discordance, but the impact of the film seems more to do with how stupid celebrities are, and how disaffected by consequence American youth with money are. The Bling Ring is largely pointless; which might be the point, perhaps. I think what it’s trying to say is that being a pretentious, covetous, greedy asshole is bad.