THE BLING RING. Starring Emma Watson, Georgia Rock, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Isreal Broussard, and Leslie Mann. Directed by Sofia Coppola. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong drug use). 90 min.
This American comedy-drama is based on a 2010 “Vanity Fair” article by Nancy Jo Sales, titled “The Suspect Wore Louboutins”. It depicts true events, and tells the story of a group of teenagers, obsessed with fame, known as “The Bling Ring”, who created their own version of crime by robbing the homes of Hollywood celebrities. The film uses cameo shots of actual celebrities, and features especially the home of Paris Hilton, whose photograph on her own staircase has the words “Can You Afford Me?” written across it.
Members of The Bling Ring have “self-loathing issues”, but were motivated by a burning desire to pursue fashion at any cost, to acquire luxury goods, and to forge fantasy identities they knew they could never have in real life. The group comprised four girls and one boy. In 2008 they started breaking into the homes of their celebrity idols to steal their personal belongings, and they picked their targets from social media and websites on the famous living in Los Angeles. Once inside the houses that they chose, the group roamed through them like luxury shopping arcades, and sometimes went back to the same house again. The Group was devoted totally to high fashion, the acquisition of luxury consumer goods, drug-crazed partying, and “cute texting” on their mobile phones.
Rebecca (Katie Chang), the group’s ringleader, wanted desperately to go to fashion school where she thought all her friends naturally went. Nicki (Emma Watson), her sister Emily (Georgia Rock), and friend Sam (Taissa Farmiga) partly responded to the pull of luxury living by way of reaction to Nicki’s sweetly controlling mother (Leslie Mann), who was a woman full of empty spiritual rhetoric. Marc (Israel Broussard), the only boy in the bunch, wanted to create his own “life-style brand” of fashion, and used the clothes and make-up he found to engage in occasional cross-dressing.
Intriguingly, Paris Hilton is not the least abashed in appearing in a film that clearly sends her up. The film depicts her as a celebrity who is silly enough to leave her house key under the front door mat, and the group found her home address on her personal web-site. Over time, they took $3m in clothing, shoes and jewellery from the houses of Paris Hilton, Megan Fox, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Australia’s Miranda Kerr, and others. Through their robberies, members of The Bling Ring became “A-list Stars” just like the celebrities they stole from.
Sofia Coppola is a thinking director, who paints her characters to make a social point. This film is about American youth out of control, who are obsessed with privilege. Their personalities as individuals are relatively unimportant to Coppola. She represents them as people who pose a significant social problem that has come to occupy our times, and she does this in a quietly mocking, vivid way. She makes little attempt to humanize the group, and she makes it perfectly clear that they demonstrate consumer madness. She shows them mouthing moral platitudes about “proper leadership” and “community feeling” in defence of what they did, that have absolutely no real meaning.
The Bling Ring is presented in pop-entertainment style. The group made no attempt to disguise itself, and its five members lived ostentatiously with the goods that they stole to continue their fake life of privilege. The group eventually gets caught, but Coppola doesn’t moralize about its activities at all. She simply uses her movie to make her point about where she thinks Society has gone, and argues strongly that the spoiled teenagers are victims of their age, captured by the social pull of websites that they access too easily.
This is an enjoyable and entertaining comedy-drama movie with serious messages behind it. It is not a film that heavily satirizes, and on the surface, it seems all about show. It represents types, rather than fleshed-out characters, but, deep down, it spells out very thoughtfully a definite moral point of view about where Society is going. It tells us dramatically how easily youth can be seduced by Society’s lures.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out 8th August 2013.