Friday, June 21, 2013

The Bling Ring (2013)


Instead of calling her kids downstairs in the morning with, “Kids!  Come get your cereal” or “Come get your toast,” Nicki’s (Emma Watson) mom yells, “Come get your Adderall!”  The Bling Ring introduces us to a different sort of adolescent; a variation raised by parents who home school them based on “The Secret” and whose entire world revolves not around music, movies, or sports, but around designers, popular clubs, and well, bling.

Based on the Vanity Fair article “The Suspect Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales, which catapulted the thieving crew to reality TV fame, The Bling Ring follows a handful of teenagers who troll gossip websites, confirm a celebrity is out of town, and burglarize their houses of cash, designer clothes, booze, and drugs.  Nicki is based on Alexis Neiers, one of the guilty pilferers, who went on to land her own reality show after all of the movie’s events. 

The story is not an indictment by writer/director Sofia Coppola of today’s youth.  Everybody realizes these kids are not emblematic of their peers; they are a unique subset best used as an example to represent the consequences of being raised to worship Prada instead of Princeton.  Getting a DUI, just like Lindsay Lohan, is seen as a badge of respect in this group.

The group, all Caucasian and mostly the spawn of financially well off parents, do not talk like they are from the Hollywood Hills, but rather south central.  They blast the latest hip-hop, rap along with lyrics that have nothing to do with their lives, and consider themselves special.  Their main hobby appears to be taking ‘selfies’ to post on Facebook.  Coppola intermittently takes the audience out of the parties and robberies to have one of the kids speak directly to the camera.  They spew the latest fashionable excuses such as, “I was suffering from self loathing” or “She was projecting her issues onto me.” 

Considering yourself the victim when you are actually the perpetrator must border on some sociopathic disorder scale.  After awhile, what begins as kind of a dare or a lark to break into a famous person’s house, becomes routine.  Coppola gives us a good look at the inside of Paris Hilton’s house, a gang favorite that they frequently return to.  Paris even cooperated with the film since it is actually her house they filmed in.  Coppola conveys the routine calculation of it all when two of the kids invade Audrina Patridge’s home but keeps the camera focused on the house from the outside of the house hoisted high up as if in a tree.  Lights turn on and off, the burglars move methodically from room to room, yet the camera only observes and waits. 

There are other breaks such as this when the action slows down, the throbbing bass of whatever club tune is blaring fades to whisper, and it gives the audience a chance to pause, observe, and ultimately shake their heads at the complete ignorance they are witnessing on screen.  Emma Watson does an outstanding job portraying a girl who is going to have a rough life.  Her British accent is gone and replaced the whiny pitch of someone you really would not want to get locked in a conversation with.  Watson obviously studied the mannerisms of vapidity and nails them down cold. 

Even though Watson is the biggest star in the film, her character Nicki is not a ringleader and occupies a supporting role even though she is the most interesting/audacious person on screen.  The leaders, Rebecca (Katie Chang) and Marc (Israel Broussard) begin the whole exercise, select most of the targets, and maintain a nebulous relationship.  Are they boyfriend/girlfriend, just friends, something in the middle?  Coppola does not address their relationship because that is not what the movie is about, but there are so many scenes with Rebecca and Marc together one naturally starts to guess at what they feel about each other.

The Bling Ring is Coppola’s fifth film and ranks about right in the middle of her work.  Lost in Translation (2003) was one of the best films of the previous decade but I enjoyed the bumbling teenagers better than Stephen Dorff’s aimless movie star from Somewhere (2010).  Compared to Spring Breakers, a film from earlier this year following a group of girls not too far removed from these, The Bling Ring is downright profound even though it never passes judgment on any of the characters.    

Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Written by: Sofia Coppola, Nancy Jo Sales
Starring: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Georgia Rock, Leslie Mann, Carlos Miranda, Gavin Rossdale


  1. I felt a bit like an accomplice just watching this. It felt like we were double dipping on the disgust. Once for the perpetrators, and once for the victims. I know not all kids will act this way or find this glamorous, but some like the Nikki character will think this was a great way to get famous and have the media attention they crave. Feeding the celebrity industry is a bad idea.

    1. I love that The Bling Ring was not an indictment of the celebrity industry though. Any film could come down hard and judge all involved here, but kudos to Coppola for stepping back and just showing us what happened. There is a bit of satire and mocking involved (especially with Nikki) but I think it neither indulges or shuns what went on.