In 2009 a series of robberies took place in the Hollywood Hills, where several celebrity's homes were burglarized and millions of dollars worth of property was stolen. The gang that was perpetrating these robberies comprised a group of teenagers who became known as the "bling ring," and in her most recent film, director Sofia Coppola dramatizes what happened and attempts to explore the mindset of these already privileged, celebrity obsessed teens, mostly young women.
Lost souls amidst luxury has been the special focus of Sofia Coppola's films (aside from her first, The Virgin Suicides). One senses she herself feels the identification with these insiders, having grown up in Hollywood as the daughter of the legendary Francis Ford Coppola and in the shadow of his success. But that identification she feels with her subjects gives her the unique ability to make us feel entirely apart of these worlds she explores, like we're on the inside track with her, seeing and experiencing all that her Marie Antoinette, or Bob Harris, or Cleo Marco is going through. This approach works again with the gang in The Bling Ring, but there's a bit of a distance this time that prevents us from getting inside the heads of these vapid, shallow teenagers, and the points Coppola wants to make about youth obsessed celebrity culture are made within the first 30 minutes. After that it seems there's not a lot left to say.
The movie starts out with the gang's ringleader Rebecca, befriending outsider Mark, who appears to be gay and ostracized from others, desperate to fit in with somebody at his new school and eager to go along with anything his new best friend does. Rebecca is probably the most interesting and the most removed from us, because she seems to possess a cold, almost sociopathic focus on the lives of celebrities she follows online, and she and Mark google their houses and systematically break into their homes, often walking in through the front door when, amazingly, many of these people leave their houses completely unlocked. While inside, they take anything they want (she calls it "going shopping"), jewelry, cash, clothes, and either keep it or sell it for drugs at various hotspots they frequent. The stolen items help them gain access to celebrity hangouts, where they can feel like part of the scene and the lifestyle they want so badly. Over time, their gang gets bigger, and Emma Watson joins the crew as Nikki Moore, the most vapid and phony of the bunch who already seems wealthy and over-privileged, giving the desperation of this gang to be a part of this lifestyle an even greedier, excessive material focus that seems pathological.
Sofia Coppola wants to comment on today's society and the obsession with wealth, privilege, excess and luxury that infects our youth, who have easy access to track the lives of the rich and famous in far more intimate ways than their predecessors of yesteryear. And indeed, the level of excess is practically overwhelming, as the gang explores every inch of Paris Hilton's mansion, where pictures of herself adorn every wall, along with several rooms full of millions of dollars in jewelry and clothing that seem to be nothing more than decoration. The temptation is understandable and it's hard to feel sorry for any celebrity who's so rich she doesn't even notice when her belongings go missing.
But these observations, as I said earlier, are all more or less made in the first half hour, and the kids' vapid and shallow nature (at least as far as Coppola shows us) prevent them from being interesting enough to care about in any meaningful way. After a while it starts getting repetitious- the break in, the partying, the wallowing- these scenes are repeated ad nauseum until they finally get caught by the police and then sentenced, with no further comment on anything that happens to them. I can't help but wish it dug a little deeper into the life of Rebecca in particular, who is very troubled and seems to have a different kind of background that could offer us some insight into her character, but Coppola seems more interested in the depiction of celebrity wealth and obsession than in what might lead a specific person of more ordinary status into it. It's too bad, because that further exploration would lead to a more insightful movie, as interesting as this one is.