The Bling Ring

© 2013 Ray Wong

Based on Nancy Jo Sales' Vanity Fair article about a group of teenagers who burglarized celebrities' houses, The Bling Ring is an odd irony. On one hand the movie scrutinizes the US teen culture of celebrity worship and materialism; on the other hand, it draws attention to them, making them even more (in)famous than they already are.

Marc (Israel Broussard) is a high school junior who just transferred to "dropout" school in Los Angeles. With low self-esteem and trying to fit in, Marc eventually makes friends with Becca (Katie Chang). Becca and her friend Chloe (Claire Julien) are free-spirited "old souls" who are obsessed with the latest fashion and celebrity gossips; Marc, a fashion-designer wannabe, feels right at home with them. Soon, Becca coerces Marc to go along and break into Paris Hilton's house while she is not in town.

The thrill of getting away with stealing from the celebrities (not to mention the allure of the high end goods and cash) becomes a drug for them. They invade more celebrities' homes and privacy; they steal more expensive things. With the money, they party hard. And they become more daring and start to brag about their conquests to others, including Nicki (Emma Watson) and her best friend Sam (Taissa Farmiga). In a matter of months, the "Bling Ring," with Becca their ring leader, has stolen more than three millions.

As they become more daring and flamboyant, they also become more careless. Soon, the group is arrested. The bizarre twist is that their arrests and eventual sentences make them a notoriety. Celebrities themselves.

Except for Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Leslie Mann (This is 40), the cast is mostly unknowns. Katie Chang (A Birder's Guide to Everything) is particularly impressive as the detached, "cool" chick who is a reckless pathological liar with a criminal mind. Her cold, detached demeanor and sociopathic disposition are perfect for the character. Israel Broussard (Flipped) is arguably the protagonist of the story, and he shows a good mix of naiveté, vulnerability and charm to make us care about him even as he makes all the wrong choices.

This is not Emma Watson's best role, but she does a good job portraying another pathological liar. Her last scene is actually quite chilling to watch. Clair Julien (The Dark Knight Rises) doesn't really have much to do except to act cool and detached as another member of the Bling Ring. Taissa Farmiga (Middleton) makes the best out of her role, as a out-of-control teen who gives me the willies. Leslie Mann plays Emma Watson's mother with a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola (Marie Antoinette), the screenplay has all of her usual touches: rather off-kilter, episodic, documentary-like and often seemingly irreverent as the characters romp around doing bad things. Coppola's writing and direction style are both laid back, minimalistic, but filled with subtexts, texture and layers. That said, the plot is rather thin and it's sometimes hard to follow a bunch of unlikable characters that don't seem to have any redeeming values, even though we can relate to them at some levels (we've all been young and stupid!) Coppola tries to balance the act by portraying these characters matter-of-factly while injecting her subtle sense of social commentary.

The irony is that while Coppola seemingly criticizes our society's obsession with fame, lifestyle and celebrity, she is also seemingly glorifying the notoriety of these heinous acts of selfish indulgence to a point that we can't help but be fascinated, itching to Google the real Bling Ring. Perhaps that's what Coppola's aiming for, to project a mirror for the audience so that they can see that they're just as intrigued and fascinated with these people much like the "foolish public" whom we chide for being obsessed with reality TV and celebrities. In a way, she reminds us that we are ALL guilty of being part of this culture.

I like The Bling Ring quite a bit, even though I really don't care of any of the characters. Perhaps my own moral codes and judgement are hindering me from being fully engaged in these characters and their story. Still, Copolla has done an admirable job in turning a rather one-note story into a multi-layered character study of peer pressure, obsessions and fame-centric culture. 

Stars: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Mann
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writers: Sofia Coppola (based on Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales)
Distributor: A24
MPAA Rating:  R for teen drug and alcohol use, language, brief sexual references
Running Time: 90 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 7
Production - 7

Total - 7.2 out of 10.0 

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