As with All of Sofia Coppola’s Films, Mood Trumps Everything in ‘The Bling Ring’

[18 October 2013]

By Marisa LaScala

“[I want to] have my own line and fragrance, host my own show,” The Bling Ring‘s Rebecca (Katie Chang) tells Marc (Israel Broussard), her new classmate at Indian Hills, otherwise known as the “dropout school”.

He agrees: “I want my own lifestyle brand.”

And, if he can’t get one of his own, it looks like he’ll have to steal someone else’s. Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, based on the article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales in Vanity Fair, dramatizes a rash of celebrity burglaries perpetrated by teenagers from Calabasas, California. What makes their crimes distinct from other robberies is that they aren’t really after the material goods they were taking (though the designer clothes, shoes, and jewelry are certainly a perk). Rather, they’re more interested in access to the celebrity world. They want to hang out in big mansions in the Hollywood Hills, dress up in couture outfits and sparkly accessories, and walk into the most exclusive clubs in Los Angeles. They want, as Marc states, the entire lifestyle.

As with all of Coppola’s films, mood trumps everything. You get a sense of all the characters’ backstories without having their rap sheets read to you. Rebecca complains about her mother’s “douchey” new husband, and it’s clear her home life is troubled without her stepfather ever appearing on screen. Marc says the reason for a previous expulsion was “excessive absences”, and you’re left to fill in the rest yourself. Their “Bling Ring” is rounded out by Nicki (Emma Watson, trading in her English accent for a perfectly grating vocal fry), a wannabe model homeschooled by her New Agey mom (Leslie Mann); Sam (Taissa Farmiga), who was taken in by Nicki’s family because of her own mother’s drug problems; and Chloe (Claire Julien), whose life outside her Bling Ring associations remains mysterious.

While Coppola doesn’t dwell on the situations that made the Bling Ring what they were, she does give you an overwhelming feeling of who they are: young, attractive, savvy, plugged in, and celebrity-obsessed. She scrolls through images of the Ring’s targets—Paris Hilton on a runway on Dlisted, Lindsay Lohan at a court date on TMZ—then follows up with the Facebook photos of the Bling Ring members, often making the same poses. Even the celebrities’ bad behavior is mimicked; Lindsay Lohan gets a DUI, then so does Chloe. You can sense the characters’ attitudes towards these celebrities shift from admiration to a darker kind of “Why can’t that be me?” envy.

And if you’re looking for envy—or, depending on your attitude towards consumerism, revulsion—more than anything Coppola emphasizes the material aspect of Los Angeles’ celebrity culture. There are shots upon shots of enormous closets, with racks stuffed with designer dresses, drawers overflowing with jewelry, and rows upon rows of shoes in a spectrum of colors. Paris Hilton allowed Coppola to film inside her house—at the real scene of the crime—and it’s a good thing, because a fictitious version of the Hilton closet probably would not have been over-the-top enough. (A DVD featurette with Hilton gives a tour of her closet and house, complete with her backyard doghouse, modeled after her own, for her seven dogs.)

When Coppola shows these lavish closets or the celebratory club-going after a heist, it looks like a fashion photo shoot. Other times, she switches to a reality-show-style handheld, reflecting how the Bling Ring participants saw themselves—as the stars of their own series. Other times, she shows them as shadowy figures on green, night-vision security cameras, or how they looked to the outside world. In the most interesting scene in the movie, the characters barely register at all: the camera stays outside a celebrity home, and all you see is the lights flick on and off in different rooms as they burglarize the house.

The range of shooting styles gives the movie interest, but like her protagonists, Coppola has a problem with excess. The cycle of Googling celebrity houses, breaking in, luxuriating in other people’s property, and heading out to party repeats itself too many times in the middle of the movie, with nothing extra added except another celebrity name to the list of victims.

Luckily, the DVD features pick up where the movie leaves off. There’s no commentary, but Coppola does appear on a making-of feature that gives some behind-the-scenes insight, yet it spends a long time on the casting process. More interesting is the “Behind the Real Bling Ring” featurette, where Nancy Jo Sales gives further background on the real-life case (including the fact that one of the detectives caused problems for the case because of his involvement with the movie). In that feature, you can see how some of the Bling Ring members appeared on TMZ—landing them on the same gossip pages as their favorite celebs, which is all they really wanted in the first place.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/175876-the-bling-ring/