Based on the events written in a Vanity Fair article entitled “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is an amplified portrait of a culture consumed by vanity and superficiality. However, contrary to Spring Breakers, Coppola’s fifth film is more about identity (or rather the lack thereof) than an indictment of youth in America.
Told through flashbacks, the story is set in Calabasas, California, an affluent section of Los Angeles County where most children drive Mercedes and have an unquenchable appetite for extravagant objects.
Relocating after being kicked out of his last high school, Marc (Israel Broussard) gets enrolled into an educational facility reserved for wealthy students with criminal records. His first day of class is not like most newcomers’ first day. He meets Rebecca (Katie Chang) and the two immediately forge a friendship over their mutual affection for Paris Hilton and the lifestyle she and many others live.
Their penchant for fame and fortune quickly escalates when they decide to ransack Paris Hilton’s Beverly Hills pad for designer clothing, expensive jewelry, and cash. The criminal behavior is reinforced when there are no repercussions. Marc and Rebecca’s posse of likeminded friends – Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and Chloe (Claire Julien) – catch wind of their heist jobs and immediately want in.
Now a group of five, the teen thieves act with reckless abandon, sporting a laissez-faire attitude as they rob one celebrity’s mansion to the next. Unconcerned with consequences or the lives of others, they continue their pursuit of a lifestyle with no remorse. They break into bombastic homes and take enough items to be momentarily satisfied, but not enough to ever be noticed. When they’re done with the job they go out and celebrate by consuming high-price alcohol, inhaling a myriad of drugs, and discussing the “things” they just stole.
They’re always just things though, and Coppola meticulously labels them as such, because “things” come with diminishing returns. Especially “things” like Louis Vuitton handbags and Gucci high-heel shoes — objects of desire that quickly fade into irrelevance the moment another trending luxury item comes into the public eye. Unfortunately, the more the group steals, the more they want. It’s a cyclical cycle these teenagers have entangled themselves in, and the cycle only has one true outcome.
As the film progresses it becomes clear that there’s not much story here at all. Coppola films, scene after scene, the cycle described above. From Lindsay Lohan to Orlando Bloom the broken children take from the people they envy the most. Although this pattern of bad behavior is at first startling, it slowly turns grating. The Bling Ring is essentially 90 minutes of the same sequence over and over again, and its repetition is ultimately more agonizing than hypnotic.
However, the bigger issue at play here is the lack of subtlety, a concept seemingly not invented at the time Sofia Coppola wrote and directed this movie. The satirization and commentary on the Hilton Generation is obvious, clunky, and suffocating (i.e. a stream of celebrity photographs are constantly plastered on the screen as the kids gush over their plastic role models).
By the time the film does finally strive to be something else, we don’t care. The Bling Ring does have the potential to be more than simply another critique on youth in the 21st Century, but it squanders all of that potential with an uninventive script and paper-thin characters (though Watson does stand above the pack in a strong performance as a disillusioned American teen).
The five perplexed teenagers so unsure of their own identity that they assume someone else’s is symbolic of the film’s primal fault. The Bling Ring, like the message on identity, is merely a fascinating idea crafted, but never satisfyingly executed.