Marc Hall (Israel Broussard) is the lonely new kid at Indian Hills High School in Calabasas, California till he befriends fame-obsessed Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang), who has a penchant for breaking and entering and stealing from the homes of the fabulously wealthy. Searching online one night, the pair discover Paris Hilton is out of town. Alongside fellow celebrity stalker Nikki (Emma Watson) and other friends, the group break into Paris’ house and help themselves to her clothes and jewellery. So begins an infamous crime spree as the so-called Bling Ring raid the homes of the rich and famous.
Based on a true story and subsequent Vanity Fair article - “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales - The Bling Ring would not be half as interesting were it simply another trite pot-shot at the obsession with celebrity that supposedly defines the youth of today. People too often forget that the cult of celebrity is neither a recent phenomenon nor some kind of blame game hot potato to be constantly cast onto the next generation. Indeed several critics dismissed The Bling Ring as a vacuous film about vacuous people, which seems like a foolish attempt to disengage from as aspect of youth culture that may be meaningless to them but, for better or worse, clearly means something to a significant section of society. We may not share those values but growing to understand them places the bizarre crimes of these teenagers within a context with broader implications for the world at large. The irony being, what these kids wanted all along was their turn in the spotlight.
What lends The Bling Ring its potency is it that it is two movies in one, the first undeniably a satire charting the progression from fame-obsessed criminality towards actual celebrity through the character of Nikki played by Emma Watson. In a terrific performance the former Harry Potter star ingeniously based her voice and mannerisms not on the real perpetrator of the crimes, Alexis Neiers, but instead on reality television star Kim Kardashian. Which adds a whole other layer of subtext. The second and perhaps more significant strand involves Marc’s feelings of friendship towards the frighteningly amoral Rebecca, which come to a genuinely heartbreaking end. Newcomers Katie Chang and Israel Broussard are every bit as impressive as Watson. Had their characters not turned to crime, they would be living in a John Hughes movie. Therein lies the genius of Sofia Coppola who shies away from simply presenting this as a moralising tabloid true crime exposé. Instead, she fashions this into a teen movie hinging on the oldest theme in the genre: the need to fit in.
Each new young generation develops their own codes and signifier drawn from the pop culture that surrounds them to create a bubble within the mainstream, an exclusive mini-world with its own rules and on occasion, unsettling variation on established morality. One of the great things about cinema is its ability to allow viewers to experience alternate lives. Coppola has a knack for conveying the inner worlds of dreamy, detached young women. She does not simply open a window but enables the viewer to experience events alongside the characters, to vicariously (albeit guiltily) thrill at their audacious thefts, through cinematic ingenuity and a carefully selected soundtrack. Her psychological approach made for an interesting contrast with the day-glo gonzo exploitation vibe Harmony Korine went for with Spring Breakers, the year’s other tale of crime-crazed young women. Coppola neither condemns nor condones the Bling Ring-ers but draws a connective thread between their pampered existence of partying, cocaine binges, D.U.Is and flaunting designer labels with the values embraced by a society when success and importance are defined by what you own and who you wear a society where notoriety and even criminality are gateways to celebrity with a million dollar book deal, a reality show and maybe even your own fragrance. For an added frisson, Coppola secured a real coup filming in the homes of several real celebrity victims including Paris Hilton, Megan Fox and Orlando Bloom and his supermodel wife Miranda Kerr, along with a cameo from Kirsten Dunst although Lindsay Lohan was allegedly less than thrilled that her personal problems figured into this film as a significant plot point.
The first American woman to be nominated for a best director Oscar, Sofia Coppola was born into a film making family, being the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, and she got her start in the business appearing in her father's films such as Rumblefish, Peggy Sue Got Married and, notoriously, The Godfather Part III.