Slight yet incisive, The Bling Ring lends the heavy-lidded camera of Sofia Coppola to a true-life tale: that of a group of California teens who burglarized a string of celebrity homes around Los Angeles circa 2009. These kids will take pearls, but fame is the ultimate crown jewel.
Indeed, what’s striking about this story – or at least Coppola’s fictionalized version of it, which she based on a Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales – is the way the teen thieves were looking to steal a lifestyle and identity more than anything else. Using celebrity magazines and websites to monitor the every move of reality-television stars such as Paris Hilton and disgraced starlets such as Lindsay Lohan, ringleaders Rebecca (Katie Chang) and Marc (Israel Broussard) find out when their targets will be out of town, sneak into their (often unlocked) homes and have a little celebration before pilfering some high-end goods. Then comes the really fun part: donning the items they’ve stolen and using the cash they found to party at nightclubs like … Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
These kids will take pearls, but fame is the ultimate crown jewel.
Coppola gives all this the same dreamy feel that sustains each of her films, particularly Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette. The Bling Ring is something of the spoiled child of those two: an account of youthful disaffection being assuaged by excessive materialism. Neither judge nor jury (though a real judge does eventually come into play), Coppola coats the movie with a shimmery surface that captures the allure of the kids’ misadventures without going so far as to endorse them. In fact, in its most sober moments – mainly the ones in which an adult is on the screen – the tragic vacuousness of these teens’ lives also comes into focus.
If The Bling Ring becomes a bit redundant – there are probably two or three more robbery/party scenes than necessary – the movie manages to hold your attention thanks to its sharp young cast. Chang’s Rebecca is a scary kleptomaniac in a deceptively wholesome package, while Broussard brings a sweet insecurity to the part of the one male amidst this group of would-be Robin Hoods. Also making a mark in a supporting part is one-time Hermione Granger Emma Watson, here playing a diabolically manipulative opportunist. After the gang is arrested, Watson’s Nicki walks into the courthouse as if she’s on the red carpet and is more than eager to tell her version of the story to Vanity Fair. She’s gunning for her own reality show, bringing her life – and The Bling Ring – full circle.