The Bling Ring

Celebrity closets
★★★
☆
Released: 
2013
Director: 
Sofia Coppola
Starring: 
Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien
The Setup: 
Group of materialistic teens steal stuff from celebrity houses.
Discussion: 

This is the latest from Sofia Coppola, centered on the true story of a bunch of L.A. teens who used the Internet to determine when celebrities would be out of town, broke into their houses and stole expensive clothing and other items. As such it would seem like a ripe place for social satire, but the main criticism of this film is that it doesn't take much of a point of view on the proceedings or the characters. This turns out to be both true and not. There is plenty of material, but Coppola continues her tradition of staying at a distance and watching events unfold, which may either be brilliantly subtle or just plain timidity.

We open with some footage of the teens in a star's home, opening a closet and saying "Let's go shopping," then we see the, posing with their pilfered goods on Facebook. Then we have Nicki, played by Emma Watson, being interviewed after the case comes to trial, saying that she's "a big believer in karma" and feels like this whole thing happened to help her grow as a person, because she "would like to lead a big charity organization... or a country, for all I know." We then flash back a year prior to the beginning of their crime spree.

This fellow Marc joins a new school, where he soon meets Rebecca. We learn that this is "the dropout school" for kids who have been kicked out of more mainstream schools. Marc's gayness is signaled early, then just becomes another feature. Rebecca invites him to "check some cars," which means seeing if anyone has left their car doors unlocked and if they've left purses and cocaine and such inside, which many have. They soon break into the home of a student they know is away, stealing various things, including the car. Interspersed are interview segments, in one of which Marc says he has self-esteem issues because he's "not ugly... but not A-List."

Part of their circle is Nicki, who is home-schooled by her mother from "science-philosophy" texts such as The Secret, where they conduct such lessons as choosing a public figure they admire--like Angelina Jolie--and what attributes she has--like a hot boyfriend--they can emulate to make themselves a better person. The kids are routinely shown smoking grass. Marc sees that Paris Hilton is out of town, and Rebecca decides to see if they can break into her house. They do, and the movie gets some gentle comedy out of showing Hilton's house as plastered with her own image. Marc and Rebecca make off with some things, and their crime wave has begun.

They brag about their exploits and post photos online. Soon they're inviting the others of their circle to join them, and they revisit Hilton's house as well as those of Megan Fox and a Victoria's Secret model. You won't wonder long if Taissa Farmiga is Vera Farmiga's sister, because of the unmistakable family resemblance. She finds a gun and waves it around precariously during one of the break-ins. There is a nice lengthy long shot as we see a house from a distance as the kids break in and pilfer it. One thing we note is that the kids are very comfortable handling large wads of cash. We only really see Nicki's mother, played by Leslie Mann, but she is shown allowing her daughters to go out to clubs at night to meet "some producer guy... from 'something' International." There is more footage of them stealing from celebrity closets, then there is even more footage of them stealing from celebrity closets.

SPOILERS > > >
Security-cam footage from one robbery is posted online, but you can't make out who the criminals are, and the fact that nothing happened afterward only emboldens Rebecca. This occasions even more footage of them stealing from celebrity closets. Their raiding parties are getting larger, and they're becoming more careless about bragging to everyone they know. Soon the police come knocking. Nicki, who is not the biggest character, but gets the best lines throughout, says as she's being led away in handcuffs "You're really hurting me! Oww! I want to call my Mom!" Rebecca initially says that the police can search, but they won't find anything, and when they do, says "Okay, if I tell you where the things are, will you let me go?"

We then have them facing the case becoming public. We see Nicki being interviewed by Vanity Fair (she became the main source for the article that inspired the movie), and her mother constantly trying to horn in on her interview, dippy smile frozen on her face. We have Rebecca being deposed, and upon learning that the cop had spoken to all of the celebrity victims, asking "What did Lindsay say?" We see the accused strutting into court as though this is just another episode of their personal reality show, skip the court proceedings entirely, then learn about their sentences. The last thing is Nicki on a talk show, claiming to have had nothing to do with the robberies, and ending with "You can follow everything about me and my journey at...."
< < < SPOILERS END

It wasn't awful. Unfortunately it is also far from great. Coppola continues her thing of just showing a bunch of events and leaving it to us to fill in the blanks. Thing is, there's just not that much here (and not a thing more than was in the original Vanity Fair article). We don't necessarily need another satire about obsession with celebrity culture (although I'm always game for one), but we could have gone into these kids' characters. We could have delved into what about their home lives made them this way. We could have learned what they think about the celebrities, and how they feel about their crimes, and whether having the high-priced items they wanted is as good as they'd hoped. We could have gone into the Marc/Rebecca dynamic much more deeply. But no, it all stays somewhat surface-level and I have captured pretty much every revealing moment in this review. The rest is fluff, or more rifling through celebrity closets.

I heard third-hand that Coppola says that she "wanted to tell it from the kids' point of view," which is exactly what she said about Marie Antoinette, and which, again, results in a bland movie. One can also observe that staying within the kids' point of view doesn't necessarily mean she can't give us information or depth on any of the topics listed above. You can stay within the kids' point of view and also shape your material into a statement (witness similar but relentlessly scathing King Kelly). And also: the kids' point of view, at least as expressed here, is simply not that interesting. My guess is that Coppola is simply too scared to take a point of view, or make a statement. Her films reek of timidity masquerading as artistic sensibility. This one is better because it at least has a story. It's clear that her visual style has evolved over the course of her films, now she just needs to understand that having a directorial viewpoint is not a bad thing, and doesn't mean that she's betraying her subjects or the verisimilitude of the story. While it's (maybe) admirable that Coppola strives for something close to lived truth, she needs to sort out the difference between being truthful and saying absolutely nothing.

Should you watch it: 

Amusing enough, but will be more than fine on video.