There’s something intensely uncomfortable about watching Sofia Coppola’s new examination of celebrity and material culture.
The story is based on real events, the story of a group of upper-middle-class teens, using only the internet and their own sense of entitlement, rob a series of celebrities for something like $3 million worth of designer goods. They’re not masterminds in any sense. They check TMZ and the like to find out when celebrities are away, then they hop fences and crawl through doggie doors and find keys under mats. Even in their thievery they’re incredibly lazy. That may be part of the discomfort I was feeling when I was watching it. Not just that the celebrities fell down in their own security, but that it was so easy for the teens to get what they wanted.
While working with a story where everyone knows the ending, the film is mostly about explaining how they got there. Ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) is incredibly manipulative of her new BFF Marc (Israel Broussard) and very into petty crime (she checks parked cars to see if they are open and steals wallets). Then there’s Nicki (Emma Watson, truly shaking off Harry Potter finally) so obsessed with celebrity and wealth that she is actively seeking a manager (but for what talent, it’s unclear) with the help of her clueless mother (Leslie Mann). Everything escalates after a trip to Paris Hilton’s mansion one night (using a key under the doormat).
It’s plainly clear that Coppola despises all of the characters, except possibly for Marc, who is painted as a victim for awhile. They smoke cigarettes, pot, do cocaine and other drugs, stay out all night get DUIs and none of it ever seems to lead to real consequences. Why do they rob? Because they can. And so even after their arrests, they seem to continue to live life like there are no consequences. But the only difference is now they are famous too.
A lot has been written about Coppola’s treatment of wealth and excess but I feel The Bling Ring is its own animal entirely. Shot with an incredible coolness (one frame in particular, a wide shot of Rebecca and Marc robbing Audrina Partridge’s glass house, is remarkable) The Bling Ring is more judgmental than her other films. It’s not just judging the teens and the celebrities, but you while you watch it. Why do you find it so fascinating? It’s just a series of thefts. You’re only there because of the celebrity aspect, the same reason Rebecca and Marc and Nicki were there too.