Probably one of the wickedest satires ever to reach the silver screen, Sofia Coppola’s delectably entertaining The Bling Ring captures an era in pop culture that many remember, but few actually long for. The narrative centers around a group of teenagers at Indian Hills High School. The opening credits identify The Bling Ring as “based on actual events,” instead of using the more common phrase “based on a true story”. This might seem like a minor distinction, but it’s an important one, because story implies a certain structure and viewpoint. Coppola’s approach to the subject is largely impartial and, depending on the viewer, this can seem refreshing or off-putting.
The Bling Ring leaders are Rebecca Ahn and Marc Hall. The two of them meet at an alternative high school and soon become close friends. Thrill-seeking party thefts lead to burglaries and joyrides. At first they steal from neighbors and acquaintances, but soon begin to target celebrities, including Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton.
Emma Watson emerges as the film’s premier scene stealer. She portrays a character named Nikki, a sort of social mutant, the product of vapid New Age parenting irradiated with near lethal doses of tabloid culture – less a personality than a collection of wants in search of immediate gratification.
The movie’s structure is predictable and programmatic. The gang parties. Then they rob. Then they party. Then they rob. It has an almost mobius-like feel – unfolding onto itself, as it finances fantasy with felonies. One almost gets the impression that some tacit comparison between banks and boutiques is at work here. The film is enveloped in what might be called a state of being; a mild numbness which comes with living at a safe distance from anything resembling hardship. The Bling Ring steal several million dollars worth of clothing and jewelry, most of which they keep for themselves. Not content with being merely wealthy, they desire the lives of the super-rich.
The impartial viewpoint implied in the film’s narrative points to a nebulous, aching void: Is The Bling Ring a movie about characters ogling celebrities or is it an excuse for the audience to ogle along with them? While Coppola’s attitude isn’t entirely sympathetic, it isn’t overtly critical either. In fact, the tone often comes off as lazily blasé. Perhaps that’s the point. When we feed our desire with theft, how can we be anything other than blasé?