The Bling Ring (2013)
Written & Directed by Sofia Coppola
For almost a full year between October 2008 and August 2009, homes of celebrities in Los Angeles were being robbed while their owners were absent. The culprits were a group of teenagers from Calabasas who used celebrity blogs, looking for notices that a celeb was going to be out of town for an event, to pick their marks. Led by Rachel Lee and Nick Prugo, they managed to steal $3 million in cash and belongings. Fifty homes in all were hit, with public figures like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Orlando Bloom among them. Their eventual arrests and trial made for a moderate media circus and led to one of the gang getting her own reality show on the American channel E! This is the absurd pseudo-celebrity of The Bling Ring.
The Bling Ring didn’t connect with me the first time I watched it years ago at its release, but this second viewing had me engaged much more. I can’t say that I loved the film, but seeing it in juxtaposition with Spring Breakers I feel I saw some more depth in a picture that is arguably disgustingly shallow. Much like Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is meant to be gross and exploitative, The Bling Ring is intentionally vapid and disinterested. The mode of the film is reflecting the personalities and morals of its protagonists. So, if you are turned off by the movie, then that makes perfect sense. These are the sorts of people I would hope the majority of viewers wouldn’t feel a strong connection with.
The attitude of our characters is perfectly summed when Rebecca Ahn (a renamed Rachel Lee, all character have their names changed for various legal reasons in making this film) get arrested by the police. She behaves utterly nonchalant about being caught, almost expecting it. Her most pressing question is inquiring what Lindsay Lohan said about when she spoke with the police. Ahn is arguably the ringleader here, coercing Marc into breaking into parked cars outside her house during a party, then milling through one of his wealthy friend’s homes, and finally sneaking into an out of town actor’s estate on the hill. The drive is to peek into the lives of the ridiculously wealthy. Early on we’re shown Ahn and Marc’s shared love of fashion, the root of their desire to emulate the lives of the elite.
In the marketing, Emma Watson’s role of Nicki Moore was heavily touted, though in the final product she is much more a supporting character to Ahn and Marc. Moore is a play on real-life Bling Ring member Alexis Neiers who is without a doubt the most infamous member of the group. Neiers and her family were in the midst of starring in an E! Channel series about she and her adopted sister’s modeling inspirations when she was arrested. The show is famous for an incredibly cringey scene where Neiers engages in a breakdown on the phone with her lawyer, sobbing over how Vanity Fair misquoted what she was wearing during the trial. The film covers their mother’s bizarre homeschooling methods based off of the pseudo-scientific garbage bestseller The Secret. She has the girls making dream boards at one point as part of their schooling, an act that even these spoiled children find too hard and tedious to do.
The Bling Ring actually has some subtle, smart comedy in its painfully distant delivery. Emma Watson surprised me at how funny her character is. She nails the entitled American white upper-middle-class role so well, and this is surprising as she is an actress I rarely am impressed by. Director Coppola never attempts to show any characters worthy of redemption or develop a sense of morality to contrast against these people. In a near documentarian passivity, she merely chronicles the shallow fawning over labels and play-acting rich and famous. The Bling Ring isn’t a film that is meant to be enjoyable, it is intentionally vapid. So if you feel your mind wandering and thinking about nothing, in many ways you are experiencing the mindset of these characters.