By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Between 2008 and 2009, a group of troubled teenagers sought out and burglarized the houses of celebrities living in the Hollywood Hills. Dubbed the Hollywood Hills Burglars and The Bling Ring, these kids broke into the homes of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Lindsay Lohan, and several others, and stole approximately three million dollars worth of money and merchandise consisting of jewelry, clothing and purses. As if this story wasn’t interesting or bizarre enough, these thieves actually hit some of these homes more than once! Writer/director Sofia Coppola brings this wild story to the big screen in a movie appropriately titled The Bling Ring and though the film works decently as a somewhat comedic satire, it does lack some realistic insight into the background of these people/characters. The redundant nature of the film’s scenes also begs to question whether there was enough story material on which to base a feature length film.
In Coppola’s film, with the exception of the celebrity victims of the crimes, the names have been changed. Marc Hall (Israel Broussard) has been expelled from his high school and has been transferred to L.A.’s Indian Hills High School, an educational institution for troubled youth. He quickly becomes friends with Rebecca (Katie Chang), a girl who enjoys getting high, drinking, stealing from unlocked cars and partying with her friends Nicki (Emma Watson), Chloe (Claire Julien), and Sam (Taissa Farmiga). Bored one night, Rebecca asks Marc to use Google Maps to locate Paris Hilton’s house and the two decide to visit, as Hilton is reportedly away for the evening. Their one night of successful theft becomes infectiously addictive and leads Rebecca, Marc and the rest of their group to pursue thefts of other wealthy celebrities.
With great direction by Coppola, the film definitely has the look and feel of a modern day teen movie. Much like Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, the story works as a portrait of modern youth, America’s obsession with thrill seeking, and the desire to live the charmed life of a celebrity. The youth in The Bling Ring obviously are spoiled, under-supervised and lack the proper parental guidance to keep them out of trouble. One of the problems with this film has to do with the lack of insight the audience is given into the lives of these kids. The Marc Hall character is painted in broad strokes and little reason is offered as to why he is so quick to rebel. Rebecca obviously has some sociopathic issues, but aside from her sinuous personality and her attitude, her character is barely developed. As for the rest of the gang, particularly Nicki (Watson), the audience does get a more detailed portrait of her home life, but it is portrayed as a comedic caricature.
This subplot involving Nicki’s home life is actually quite funny and provides loads of comedic fodder. Emma Watson really shines in this role. She truly is hilarious as the spoiled uber-Californian model/actress/celebrity wannabe. Comic actress Leslie Mann stars as Nicki’s mother Laura who raises her daughters and patterns their family life in accordance with the self-help book The Secret. These moments along with the thrilling audaciousness and reckless abandon of the thefts provide much entertainment, but then become redundant after awhile. The crime sprees and the celebrations there after, almost become ritualistic in the film and that’s where the movie loses me a bit. I desired more substance and more development of these characters. Then again perhaps these people/characters are so vacant that there isn’t much more to tell.
As a stylish curiosity piece, I do recommend The Bling Ring, but for either a matinee or rental. It lacks some of the thrills and entertainment provided by similar films such as Pain and Gain and Spring Breakers, but is sometimes hypnotic in its presentation and often amusing in the portrayal of some of its characters. It definitely is not one of Sofia Coppola’s best films, but I’m sure it’s not her worst.