THE BLING RING Review

4 stars

There’s no pretending these characters are even remotely likable. The girls at the center of this true life bling ring are privilged bitches, celebrity-obsessed teenagers who represent the worst in American youth culture: the fetishising of actors not for talent but rather their glamorous lifestyle and designer labels. In the same vein as Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” Sofia Coppola’s fifth feature, “The Bling Ring,” is an examination of girls gone mad, a sleek and sexy film that’s deceptively vapid with a stinging subtext that runs deep.

Based on the Vanity Fair piece, “The Suspect Wore Louboutins” by Mary Jo Sales, the movie follows high schoolers Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga), Rebecca (Katie Chang), Chloe (Claire Julien) and the one guy, Marc (Israel Broussard), who spend their evenings sneaking into the homes of A-listers like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Rachel Bilson. “I want some Chanel,” Rebecca croons. “I want to rob,” says Nicki. They treat the break-ins like personal shopping sprees, parading through extravagant closets and and endless collections of luxury clothing. They find the addresses online, all are easily accessible and some of the houses are even unlocked, so to them it hardly feels like breaking and entering. And it of course took these far-flung celebrities a long time before they noticed anything was even missing.

The girls’ personalities are basically interchangeable. They’re all materialistic, vain, shallow, selfish, checking themselves out in the mirror, hiking up their skirts and looking for the next club to hit up. Emma Watson’s Nicki is especially nightmarish, a Valley Girl from hell who is home-schooled by her mom (Leslie Mann) and gets lessons from her based on “The Secret.” The ringleader of the group is actually Rebecca, played with an icy blank expression by Katie Chang. She first brings in Marc who’s only looking for friends at a new school, to feel like he belongs and in these morally bankrupt divas he finds his answer.

Coppola presents the action as perfectly matter-of-fact, riding the fine line between empathy and satire without ever falling into either category. Through the crimes and then the LAPD investigation and court ruling to follow, there’s a tone of wry irony and a dark sense of humor. The girls say nothing of value. Their vocabulary consists of “chill” and “hot,” they order bottle service at the club taking selfies and posting everything to Facebook. There’s an inherent voyeurism and entertainment in watching these events unfold, but there’s also a definite technique to its sheer emptiness. Watch the club scenes closely, and you’ll see the desperation.

The easy route would be to chalk their behavior up to bad parenting and a sign of the times. But that’s not what Coppola is going after. These adolescents are numb to life, striving to emulate their false icons and wanting something to feel alive. And this writer and director, who has been increasingly criticized since “Lost In Translation,” is a smart, singular talent who exquisitely crafts every mood and meaning. She has always been interested in fame and isolation, characters committed to an island. “The Bling Ring” also marks her most obvious film, which isn’t necessarily a knock. The movie’s last line, delivered by Nicki, drives it home. So what’s scarier? These teenagers’ actions, or how they ended up getting exactly what they wanted?
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