The Bling Ring Cast

Dir. Sofia Coppola
(2013, R, 90 minutes)

The Bling Ring continues director Sofia Coppola‘s fascination with celebrity spaces. It’s a world she is uniquely familiar with, being a successful filmmaker, the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, and who also counts among her relatives Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman. But where her previous films — Lost in Translation, Somewhere, and even the allegorical Marie Antoinette — focused on the loneliness and isolation of this milieu, Bling Ring focuses on another, perhaps even more insidious aspect of the lifestyle: aspirational consumption.

Coppola explores the pitfalls of a certain Hollywood lifestyle: overstimulated, under-supervised, overindulged. The film is based on the true story of a group of privileged teenagers who went on a spree of robberies in the houses of the rich and famous. But none of the participants seem to think of their actions as robberies, or even crimes. To them they are simply exploring a playground of excess that is theirs by design: the unlocked cars with unsecured money, the unlocked houses — or easily unlocked houses — containing such riches that thousands of dollars worth of merchandise would hardly be missed.

And why should they think otherwise? These rich white kids may never have been told there’s anywhere they don’t inherently belong. Their drug-fueled, alcohol-soaked criminal exploits are for quite a while completely free of consequence. And their parents, what little we see of them, are oblivious, absent, or absurdly permissive. One, played by Leslie Mann, has decided to home-school her children based on the principles of The Secret. And when her daughter is finally caught and arrested, she’s visibly overjoyed that Vanity Fair wants to write an article about it. She should be reported to child protective services.

What makes Coppola’s examination of this world so trenchant is how she shows that these teenagers are ultimately not transgressing against the celebrity world, they’re participating in it. They’re not breaking into the homes of the likes of Meryl Streep or Tom Hanks, but rather tabloid queens like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, whose faces are splashed across gossip magazines and TMZ, which these teenagers absorb thoughtlessly like sponges. When they’re eventually caught and arrested, they walk to the courthouse dressed to the nines and besieged by photographers, and their assimilation is complete. They’ve achieved fame through infamy just like the stars they idolize.

In that way, Coppola not only criticizes the teenage crooks but also the culture that shaped them, the vapid world of status-through-consumption that is glamorized for them everywhere they look. Coppola shows us how little else there is in these kids’ lives: driving in expensive cars singing along to rap music, watching for celebrities at night clubs, browsing magazines and websites for the latest celebrity exploits. School is an afterthought. Parents even more so.

One scene struck me in particular. One of the participants, Marc (Israel Broussard), is in his room with a co-conspirator Nicki (Emma Watson) when his father walks in to check in on them. Nicki hides a lit joint behind her back, they tell dear old dad nothing is wrong, and the dad, having apparently no sense of smell, leaves them alone. That is the most parental concern we see in the film.

Coppola is keenly observant of these characters, intelligently critical, without ever being superior or self-righteous. The kids she profiles have no substance or empathy, but they are that way because it’s what they’ve been taught. They’re spoiled rotten, but in their insular Hollywood bubble they fit right in.