Mark Reviews Movies

The Bling Ring


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Georgia Rock, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann

MPAA Rating: R (for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 6/21/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 21, 2013

It's only been about a decade since our culture began embracing the concept of celebrities who are famous simply for being famous. It, along with the influx of reality television, has led to a generation that not only imagines they can become famous for no real reason but also believes they are entitled to it. The kids of The Bling Ring, who trespass into the homes of their favorite celebrities to steal those stars' possessions, are of that generation.

The film is based on the true story of a group of teens who operated for almost a year between 2008 and 2009 before getting caught. Watching the film, it's not difficult to believe that part of the story. These homes contain closets, hidden rooms, and safes full of so much stuff that it's easy to imagine one of these celebrities failing to notice that some of it is missing. Does that excuse these kids? Of course it doesn't, but maybe it's a sign that one does have too many purses if it takes multiple burglaries before the person realizes some of them are missing.

Celebrities—a few of whom make brief cameo appearances—get off the easiest in writer/director Sofia Coppola's film, but even with as much blame as there is to pass around here, Coppola isn't interested in chiding anyone. The film is simply presented as a fictionalized document of events, with the actors portraying these admittedly clever but really insufferable kids reenacting interviews with various media outlets in between their exploits, which resulted in them stealing over $3 million in cash and various high-end items. Here, they spend the cash on clothes and accessories. They keep some of the stuff and take photos of themselves with it to share on social networking websites; they sell the rest so that they can buy more.

We have to wonder why we know all of this information. It became national news (Ironically, with the release of the film, the story is back on the docket of the 24-hour news cycle; these kid apparently have a few more seconds to squeeze out of their 15 minutes of fame). Did it need to be? Well, that's really the question Coppola is posing here.

Coppola's screenplay (based on a magazine article by Nancy Jo Sales) picks the most sympathetic of the bunch as its entryway into the story. He's Marc (Israel Broussard), a teenager arriving at a new high school for students who have messed up in one way or another. His classmates ridicule him, but Rebecca (Katie Chang) takes pity on him. They become fast friends—or as much of friend as Rebecca is capable of having. She's already started entering into the homes of her affluent neighbors in the area while they're away on vacation to steal money and other things of value. Marc inadvertently helps her pick out the home of a friend whose family is out of town.

Then, while browsing a tabloid news website, Marc mentions that Paris Hilton, whom they spot while out with friends for regular visits to a local club, is away. They find her address online and head over to the celebrity's house that night. The door is open.

If the kids—including Rebecca's friends Nicki (Emma Watson), Chloe (Claire Julien), and Sam (Taissa Farmiga)—who burgle these homes have a false sense of entitlement, then the celebrities who leave their multi-million-dollar houses unlocked clearly have a feeling of being untouchable. It's not just information about various events that mean their celebrity targets are out of their homes that the kids find while perusing various tabloid news sites; it's also news about this or that star's arrest. After a night of partying, one of the thieves gets involved in a car accident and is arrested for drunk driving. Coppola stays with her as she gets her mug shot, and we have to wonder if it's just another trophy for her mantel—another thing that connects her to the people she admires most.

It's a vicious cycle, the film argues, and the primary enabler is the media, which inundates the airwaves, the press, and the Internet with gossip regarding people about whose lives we have no reason to care (One could argue they're only giving people what they want; the case could be better made that people are being told what they should want). These kids see that and idolize it. If one isn't famous, then what's the point?

It's not like these teenagers aren't doing fine in their own lives. Even without the money from the robberies, they're still able to go out to a fancy club whenever they want. We get a few glimpses of their home lives, and save for Marc, they come from homes that are at least upper middle class in or near an affluent city in Los Angeles County. Their parents are hardly a part of their lives. We only see Nicki's mother, a supporter of New Age philosophy, and at least she tries to teach her daughters something of a code to living. Nicki doesn't understand it; when asked who she wants as a role model, she says Angelina Jolie—not for her philanthropic work but because of her looks and her attractive husband.

We can't blame the parents. There's no reason to fault the famous people they rob because they do eventually wise up, and we watch as security footage from some of the houses makes its way on to the news. We can only blame the kids for their crimes. When Marc is asked why he thinks they've become newsworthy, he answers that people are just fascinated with criminals. If they had just robbed John and Jane Doe, they wouldn't be news.  They don't even realize what motivates them. The Bling Ring makes a good case that there's a segment of the population that has never learned the difference between fame and infamy, and they don't care either way.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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