‘Let’s go shopping,’ are the first words of The Bling Ring, but the speaker hasn’t just entered a shop. Instead she and her school-friends have broken into Paris Hilton’s house in Hollywood. Did they use hi-tech means to disable the alarm? Did they have to use ingenuity to get past killer guard dogs? No, they simply looked under the doormat for the key.
Whether you like this film or not will depend a large part on whether you want to spend 90 minutes in the company of teenage thieves. If that sounds just the thing then The Bling Ring will deliver several delinquent youngsters who steal without qualms or sense. If you question whether 90 minutes of unrepentant thievery is for you then you’ll have a harder time. Like American Psycho maybe you can read a critique of celebrity and consumer culture into this film made by a celeb about celebs and wannabe celebs. You may though only be able to see a celebration of the Western obsession with celebrities and consumption.
Directed by Sophia Coppola, The Bling Ring is a pretty film. Whether you can inherit a directing gene or not, she’s got the knack. The colours are vibrant, the setting is glamourous, the victims are good-looking. The thieves themselves are a physically attractive bunch, obsessed with their looks, constantly taking selfies on their phones. The story is told in retrospect and interspersed with clips from interviews that the gang members give to a journalist after their trials. Led by Rebecca (Katie Chang) the group of girls and one boy – Marc (played by Israel Broussard) drop in and out of celebrities’ houses so often they can forget how many times they have been to Paris Hilton’s.
Coppola wrote the script herself, based on a real life gang that victimised celebrities using the simple fact that the internet tells you where and when celebrities are away from home, filming or partying. We get a lot of hanging around in big houses trying on other people’s clothes. We are supposed to laugh at the idea that Paris Hilton has cushions with pictures of herself on all over the house – though maybe she does as her actual house is said to have been used by the filmmakers. They break in easily without a care for getting caught. I’m no expert on robbery protocol, but wearing a mask seems a sensible idea. Did these teens really think that Hollywood stars would not have CCTV? We don’t get any sense of the difficulties of breaking into houses, of any self-recrimination. The sheer number of people involved or who knew about the crimes meant that they would soon be discovered, and the Facebook posting of pictures of themselves with the stolen goods smacks of idiocy.
It could be said that these people were not stealing the shoes, dresses and jewellery per se. They were trying to steal a lifestyle that they perceived as desirable. But their first victim isn’t a celebrity, it is a friend of Marc’s, the only male member of the gang. And the leader, Rebecca starts out trying the doors of parked cars and helping herself to any valuables or drugs inside. We can see how peer pressure and greed can affect people, particularly Marc, but we knew that already, and we are given no attempt at an explanation. The characters are mainly interchangeable though Emily Watson’s Nicki is given more of a backstory than the others and Watson gives a memorably shallow and self-obsessed performance.
If the victims weren’t famous The Bling Ring would just be a tale of petty theft with no reason to splash stills of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan through the film. Of course Coppola is one of the very class that are being targeted, which changes the dynamics of the story. Brought up as Hollywood elite her view of these crimes appears to be positive, as though they have brought the celebs more fame and fortune. There is an early critique of celeb-culture, when Nicki’s home-schooling mother holds up Angelina Jolie as a role model, but you’ll be left with questions, not least would a director whose projects aren’t funded by American Zoetrope be able to get this project green-lit? And also, how does having a stolen credit card let you use it in a shop? How did they get the PINs?