As the soundtrack booms with an onslaught of undeniably body-grooving alt-funk and the camera obsessively pans from one overstuffed collection of prestige “valuables” to the next, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring announces itself with the sort of too-cool, Gen-Y hipster gusto that exemplifies its vapid, villainous characters. The ensuing film functions as a window into the world that defines, informs, and thoroughly consumes those characters. We are currently living in that world — a world where celebrity gossip trumps vital world news, where the senses of our youth go into withdrawal without a form of media to satiate them, and where the advertising that populates said media intones an incessant message of attaining hotness at all costs.
“Cost” is a word that the subjects of The Bling Ring explicitly ignore — after all, the cost attached to the items they desire would be too high for anyone other than the notoriously well-paid Hollywood Elite. So these kids decide to steal them. Such brash actions, reached with no great amount of worry or indecision, based solely on the indirect connection to fame and fortune, doesn’t speak well for the younger generations. In fact, it strongly exudes a vibe of vapidity and disassociation with the real world, a vibe that can be confirmed as accurate since this film is based on actual events. “The Bling Ring” was also referred to as “The Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch,” the group of California teens who broke into the homes of several celebrities (among them Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Orlando Bloom, and most frequently Paris Hilton), stole over $3 million worth of merchandise, and apparently were targeting dozens of others when they were finally caught. Oh, precocious youth… they will one day run the world.
In the opening sequence, the titular group of SoCal teens casually enters a posh Hollywood home. Apparently is isn’t that hard — celebs must feel pretty safe in their neighborhoods. Before digging into the cache of hot celeb treasure, one of the kids, Rebecca (Katie Chang), turns to the camera and whispers, “Let’s shop.” It’s an open invitation for the audience to enter into this world, and enter we do, with Coppola as our observational guide.
Rebecca is the de facto ringleader — without her suggestion, none of these specific robberies would take place. But the robberies themselves are merely acute symptoms of the chronic problem, vapid generational selfishness. Certainly the serial robbery spree is execrable, but would these kids have been engaging in any more virtuous pursuits if they weren’t thieving from stars? Instead of being Rebecca’s chief accomplice, Marc (Israel Broussard) would probably just sit in his room ogling celebrity gossip in private. Rather than joining the crew and pushing to pursue more victims, Nicki (Emma Watson) would just continue to party late into the night, wake up at noon, disrespect her clueless mother (Leslie Mann), and grow up every bit as uneducated-yet-entitled. Is this a way of suggesting that these robberies are “no big deal”? Of course not. Rather, it’s a way of suggesting that being criminals is not these kids’ most dangerous problem — being kids in this culture is.
The influence of the culture is a veiled theme in the film. The emptiness of blind obsession is more overtly pronounced. Coppola, as ever, works in the subtlety of observation, immersing in the world of the characters and laying its flaws bare as opposed to strongly essaying the downfall of youth. As a result, The Bling Ring doesn’t announce a specific “statement” or “message,” but relies on the audience to connect the dots from scene to scene.
And what do we see? We see the malaise of disaffected young people, privileged beyond belief but still desperate for a better life, active in the church of celebrity but not content to sit in the pews. This “Bling Ring” doesn’t so much raid celebrity homes as much as momentarily populate the celebrity space, living in the house and trying on the clothes, then taking some souvenirs with them. Most interesting is that there is a psychic link between the criminals and their victims. When we enter the celeb homes, we see rooms upon rooms of stuff, so much stuff that there is not enough room to display it. It just sits there, a collection of forgotten possessions. After stealing all this stuff, the kids can’t display it, so they hide it under beds and in garage crates. So finally we see the culture come full circle: one lie feeds into another.