It is nighttime in the Hollywood Hills. Through the greenish glow of a security camera lens, we see five teens hop a security fence. As they approach the camera, they turn their backs and pull up their hoods, backing up the driveway to avoid showing their faces. The Bling Ring is at it again.
Sofia Coppola’s newest feature, The Bling Ring tells the story of 5 affluent teenagers from the San Fernando Valley, more aptly known as ‘The Valley’, who burglarized several celebrity homes in 2008 and 2009. The group stole a sum total of nearly $3 million dollars’ worth of cash, clothes, handbags and jewelry. Based on true events, the film relies heavily on the specifics detailed in the 2010 Vanity Fair story, The Suspects Wore Louboutins by Nancy Jo Sales.
The story follows two teens, Marc and Rebecca (played by newcomers Israel Broussard and Katie Chang), who are attending a rough high school. Rebecca calls it “the drop out school.” Marc was kicked out of his previous high school for excessive absences, while Rebecca says she was found with “substances you’re not supposed to have in school.” The two form a fast friendship.
One night Rebecca, who is obsessed with celebrity and fashion, suggests that they rob Paris Hilton’s house for fun. They know she is out of town hosting a party, and they find her address on Google. When they arrive, Paris isn’t at home and her doors are unlocked. Throughout the film, they draw in a group of friends and burglarize the homes of Megan Fox, Orlando Bloom, Audrina Patridge and others. They revisit Paris Hilton’s home 8 times, never stealing too much to be noticed. When surveillance footage of their exploits is given to police and news media, they begin to realize that their actions may have consequences after all.
When I walked out of the theater, I felt the same way as I did after Spring Breakers. What was the point? I couldn’t understand these vapid and self-absorbed characters. How could I relate to their motivations or even care about the outcome? Emma Watson’s character, Nicki, was especially empty, a true parody of the insipid, privileged, priorities-be-damned, self-obsessed characters featured on “reality” shows like The Hills. Character development is hard to find when the characters are so static and downright grating.
However, upon returning home, I read the 2010 Vanity Fair story by Nancy Jo Sales and a light went on: this is reality.
When television network E! renewed Keeping Up with the Kardashians in 2007, it was the No. 1 show in the 18-34 demographic for its Sunday 10:30 pm time slot, according to Nielson Ratings. During the first season of The Hills, viewership averaged around 2 million in MTV’s target demographic of teens and young adults. With the popularity of shows that target this demographic, I am not surprised at the sense of entitlement exhibited by these 5 felons, who are admittedly obsessed with that lifestyle.
The real Bling Ringers all came from privileged backgrounds. It is reasonable to think that having never truly experienced the consequences of their actions and by having powerful parents who will bail them out of a jam, a teenager would continue to push boundaries. Add excessive lifestyle shows like The Kardashians and The Hills, your goal is to be that, to have that and to live like that. It’s only natural to want to achieve your goal in the easiest way possible.
Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring both left a bad taste in my mouth. The difference in The Bling Ring was the realism. While, Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine attempted to shock audiences using explicit images of sex and violence to reveal the out-of-control, no-consequences lifestyle his characters represented. Far too delighted in his approach and as I stated in my review, the message was lost after the 300th bare, bouncing breast I saw.
Sofia Coppola, by contrast, portrayed her characters without any judgment or social commentary. She instead, let them speak for themselves. The film is beautifully shot and is surprisingly open with the same breathy but dynamic air of her 1999 hit, The Virgin Suicides. As the script includes direct interviews with the Ring members, Sofia lets their attitudes and their obsessions come through untouched.
In The Bling Ring, it is the story itself that truly says something about our tendency to worship celebrities. There is no need for in-your-face theatrics when you have a good story to tell and Sofia gives us a window into this truly fascinating tale.