A Trove of Luxury Just an Open Door Away
After slipping into Laboutin heels, fashioning a Prada bag, and glossing her lips with Lindsay Lohan’s magenta line, a smile, slowly and contentedly, begins to widen in front of a mirror. It’s a hallmark shot in director Sofia Coppola’s fifth feature film, one that the talented female filmmaker has nearly mastered in over a decade of work. This vision of superficial teenage fantasy becomes a reality before our eyes, as do personal feelings perhaps of jealousy or contempt. What makes adorning oneself with luxury so gratifying? What drives this materialistic hunger?
These questions are not so much as grappled with than merely posited in The Bling Ring, about the privileged group of Calabasas high school teenagers that stole millions of dollars’ worth of celebrity loot. Based off the Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales in 2008, the film is Coppola’s least personal work but remains thematically tuned to her exploration into post-pubescent lives of wealth and fame. This time fascination lies not with the people of luxury life, but with what they have in their closets that fosters unquenchable shopping sprees.
The girl leading the infamous swiping and wearing that aforementioned smile is Rebecca (Katie Chang), a functioning kleptomaniac who wields tremendous influence over her peers. Depending on how you view her Alpha-male group dominance will determine if you believe new student Marc (Israel Broussard) is a victim in this scandal or an obliging co-conspirator. There’s no real reason why Rebecca befriends Marc on his first day in a new school, but as she tempts him with pickpockets and small thefts from car doors, his compliance makes him an attractive candidate for her star-fueled heists. They Google Paris Hilton’s address, research her whereabouts, and then all too easily invade her customized mansion thanks to a handy key under the mat.
Pretty soon, impressed by the stash Rebecca and Marc return with, Nicki (Emma Watson), her adopted friend Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and Chloe (Claire Julien) join the scheming San Fernando Valley fray, feeding their designer-wear impulses. Nicki in real life is Alexis Neiers, and after getting caught, tells the press “this is a learning experience,” because for all she knows, she may want to lead a country someday. Watson speaks these words in a thick Valley accent, an affectation that seems to insinuate a cultural “type” nowadays. Inspired by girls from “The Hills” crowd with dreams of becoming fashion designers, the Ugg wearing, Starbucks sucking crew is a living embodiment of vapid celebrity-driven aspiration.
Maybe it’s the parenting? Leslie Mann plays Nicki and Sam’s mother in strikingly similar fashion to Amy Poehler’s misguided maternal role in Mean Girls. She homeschools them both, pushing Adderall as part of balanced breakfasts and lesson plans about Angelina Jolie. This of course is an inevitably failing method; besides, these girls just want to go the club, dance, and steal. Moving along to eclectic pop charts, Marc and the girls, to their ultimate detriment, live through their own mediated experiences. A majority of the time is spent taking “selfies” on the couch and posting Facebook pictures of celeb-house plunder. Their illegal activity is more dangerous once the thieving is complete, when the internet takes its dancing rebels’s posts and lets others see their deeds.
They slip quietly and cautiously over fences and through open sliding glass doors, burglarizing the likes of Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, and Lindsay Lohan after confirming the stars’ out of town absence online. In one scene, styled with subtle direction by cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, Mark and Rebecca sneak into Audrina Patridge’s glass boxed mansion. The camera sits hidden in the hills and observes like a security tape the easily viewed jewelry, clothing, and money the duo hurriedly collects in this small-lit fishbowl above Los Angeles. Isolated and above the masses, their naïve robberies spawn from the same distanced and obtuse mindset of their victims.
So it’s difficult to fully patronize these incessant acts of theft because deep down these unguarded celebrities were somewhat asking for their comeuppance. Yet these girls and guy, who say things like, “Oh my God, I love it” to every pair of heels they try on, find themselves devoid of any compassion. We all want things we don’t need or have, but this group of self-absorbed teens equates the two. What Coppola does, like in her last films Marie Antoinette and Somewhere, is impartially capture her subjects. The Bling Ring is neither promoting nor chastising this eventually incarcerated group. Instead she finds an authenticity in each character’s superficial goals and a name brand aesthetic suggesting more than just an insular compulsion.
“I wanted to be part of that lifestyle,” Marc admits to questioners before heading to prison. Later, Rebecca finds out Lindsay Lohan responded to her victimization and asks her detainer, “What did Lindsay say?” in exasperated tone. The question echoes with a hollow humor. Years, months, weeks, days, minutes from now, does it really matter?