[13 June 2013]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
“I want to go to Paris.” What Rebecca (Katie Chang) means is, she wants to go to Paris Hilton’s house. Her friends nod: they know what she means. As she conflates the house with the person with the city with the realty TV with the fantasy, Becca doesn’t even say out loud why she wants to go, which is just so obvious and also so not obvious. Dude.
Becca wants to go shopping, which is to say, she wants to go pick out those Louboutins or Hervé Légers and Versace she wants, the designer items Hilton—or more likely, Hilton’s assistant—has arranged in gigantic closets and on dozens of shelves. Becca and her crew have fond that Hilton leaves her key under the mat, and so when they read that she’s out of town, throwing a party in Vegas or on vacation in Maui, they head over to Paris to fulfill their desires.
These desires are conditioned by everything, you know, the celebrity scoops, the video feeds, the Twitter updates on who’s wearing what where. These desires are at once the subject of The Bling Ring, but they remain elusive too. The kids who want all this stuff don’t know quite what they want to do with it. They fold it and hang it and store it in trunks and boxes and under beds, they model it for one another, wear it for nights out, pout their lips and pose for their own Facebook pages, not worried that anyone might see them with stolen custom made blouses or glittery rings, but mimicking the stars who once had these things in their own trunks and closets, who have now mostly forgotten they had those things at all.
This is one of the rubs in Sofia Coppola’s weirdly fascinating, beautifully composed film, that the stolen stuff doesn’t feel owned or stolen, exactly, but more endlessly transferred, from one briefly desirous individual or one shelf to another. The next Alexander Wang dress or Stephen Sprouse bag is ever coming, the thrill of each moment might be recorded and so caught, but it’s gone too. In this sense, you might interpret the movie as a look at transience, at loss that’s never quite identified as such, at the illusions offered by celebrity culture and the dreams that might be visible on HuffPo or TMZ. You might see as well a consideration of surfaces, expensive and shiny, specific and vague.
In scene after scene, the camera glides over such surfaces, whether Us Weekly covers or Paris Hilton’s collection of Paris Hilton pillows or Becca and her friends’ lovely, vacant, perfectly made up faces. It’s not that you feel you come to know anything about Nicki (Emma Watson) and her best friend Sam (Taissa Farmiga), or that Chloe (Claire Julien), mug-shotted after her arrest for DUI leads to hours picking up trash, comes to an understanding of herself. It’s that your judgments—perpetual, self-righteous, extending beyond the film’s surfaces to the similar surfaces you glimpse and guess at each day, just like these kids do—are part of the dilemma presented here. The film takes a couple of too easy shots at Nicki’s airheaded mom (Leslie Mann), as she gathers her home-schooled girls in her glossy kitchen to pray according to the wisdom of The Secret, and includes interviews with a Vanity Fair reporter (Annie Fitzgerald), so that Nicki might pronounce her hope to one day be the head of something, or Marc (Israel Broussard) might worry about being “good looking.”
But the background for the kids’ robberies or appetites is not the point here. Neither is it the consequences, which are delivered summarily at film’s end, with a precise courtroom bit that transitions from the doors closing on you to a loud gunshot-sounding gavel slam to the doors opening and a cursory list of who’s sentenced to what time. It’s not that anyone is learning a lesson here, least of al you. Marc might head to prison on a bus, wearing orange, and Nicki might end up on TV, discussing her time inside—with, oh my God, her idol Paris Hilton. Was she worried that Paris might have heard she was the one who robbed her house? Oh, well, that might have been hard, as was “being awokened at 5:30 am.” But Nicki isn’t transformed and neither are you.
That the film doesn’t mean to enlighten you is something of a lesson in itself. You know how so many movies instruct, lead you through a rise and fall, moralize or shape an experience so you might ponder it. Your experience remains as illusory and elusive as those you observe. Most of these observations will be of images predetermined and self-aware: again and again, the film shows surveillance camera footage where the thieves wear hoodies and sunglasses, as well as red-carpetish poses—Rachel Billson or Audrina Partridge with her hands on her hips, Becca with her lips arranged just so—it also offers long, cool, not clearly framed views.
Among the most striking of these is a long take, super-slow push in on Audrina’s house being robbed. Becca and Marc head inside, the camera hovering and utterly controlled. As the kids go from room to room, the house’s window-walls reveal pretty much everything. They turn on lights, fill up bags with clothing and shoes, turn off lights, and leave. You hear chopper sounds, even sirens, in the distance, but no one is coming for these kids.