Lurking beneath the surface of Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is a razor-sharp black comedy about the impact of celebrity culture on today’s teenagers. The way partying, owning exorbitant amounts of expensive things and narcissistic celebration of self have become major life goals. Consequences, the need for hard work; these things don’t register at all in the minds of The Bling Ring’s vapid “heroes” – privileged young hedonists who list Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan as their role models.
To be fair, once in a while – particularly in the film’s final act – The Bling Ring highlights these points to laugh-out loud effect. However, the film is disappointingly short on chuckle-worthy wit. Just as with Kids almost twenty years ago, the audience is simply along for the very debauched ride. Which is fine. To a point.
It’s just unfortunate that at times The Bling Ring feels like it’s 40% teenagers taking selfies, 40% shots of extravagant celebrity wardrobes, and then 20% everything else. The overall sensation is one of missed opportunity: that a far more engaging, consistently entertaining version of the story could have been told – a sort of real-life Mean Girls perhaps – as opposed to this fitfully amusing satire.
For the record, The Bling Ring is based on real events. In the late Noughties, a group of Californian high schoolers started robbing the homes of Hollywood stars. They’d track their target’s movements on gossip sites, find out when he or she was out of town and then use Google Street Maps to scout out their house. The teens would then break in and take what they wanted – designer clothing, jewellery, thick rolls of cash; even guns, furniture and artwork. Little of this loot was missed by its owners given how much “stuff” they had accumulated.
The Bling Ring certainly brings the cinematic dazzle. It mixes up colourful shots of drugged-up nightclub fun, the opulence of celebrity homes, security camera footage and Facebook updates. And in terms of performances, it’s a very talented young ensemble on screen. Katie Chang and Israel Broussard impress as the blank-eyed, indifferent ring leaders who start robbing for kicks and bragging rights; and who discover a fraction too late that their behavior comes with a cost. Emma Watson’s Nicki is the standout though as her character cunningly harnesses her notoriety for maximum self-promotional effect; manipulating the press with a combination of seductress looks and feigned remorse.
In one way it’s admirable that The Bling Ring adopts the viewpoint of neutral observer, instead of forcing judgement on the audience. Over time you do slip into the mindset of detached young people who equate heartbreak with being unfriended on Facebook. It hurts.
Still though, by the time the end credits roll, it’s impossible to escape an overwhelming sense of pointlessness – that same feeling of “So what?” that clings to so many independent films and is likely to frustrate the average moviegoer. Pity.
Last Updated: November 28, 2013