There seems to be a trend in film this year involving the inherent horribleness of this generation of young teens and twentysomethings. Spring Breakers showed how careless the MTV generation is in regard to their own lives, highlighting how quickly a penchant for danger and excitement can lead to life-altering consequences. Most of the audience reception surrounding that film was negative, since many simply saw Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens on the poster, saw that it was about Spring Break and expected a good time. They failed to understand that the film was holding a mirror up to the audience with the message of “look at what our young society has become.” I expect many of that same crowd went into The Bling Ring with similar expectations. They saw Emma Watson acting sexy in the trailer, saw that it was about a group of teen burglars who rob celebrity houses, and assumed it would be some entertaining heist film, like Ocean’s 11 meets Mean Girls. Unfortunately for them, this is another film with a specific thesis aimed at the fame-obssessed subset of today’s youth.
The Bling Ring begins with a familiar plot introductory device, with a new person entering a world and becoming the audience surrogate. In this case, we are introduced to high-schooler Marc (Israel Broussard) as he transfers to a new school in the heart of Los Angeles. He immediately befriends Rebecca (Katie Chang), a celebrity-obsessed classmate with a penchant for taking what she wants without fear of consequence. Marc becomes so drawn to Rebecca that he willingly goes along with her kleptomania if only to make sure she doesn’t get caught or do anything too stupid. Before too long, however, Marc and Rebecca work together to find houses of celebrities who have gone to different events overnight before breaking in and stealing some of their most valuable items. Eventually, the pair becomes a quintet, with Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien) joining the group of burglars. The group gradually becomes addicted to the rush of breaking into celebrity houses after repeated visits to Paris Hilton’s opulent home. As the group continues to steal more and more, the audience starts to wonder when the other shoe is going to drop. Surely these kids can’t keep getting away with this burglary without getting caught, though it soon begins to look that way.
Director Sofia Coppola infuses the film with a voyeuristic style that is well suited for the topic at hand. With a few keystrokes into Google you can easily find the house of any public figure and cross reference that with a news story about them being elsewhere in the world. Of course, the amount of surveillance surrounding us, especially as of late, is enough to strike fear into anyone trying to get away with anything approaching breaking the law. The camera in this film is very intrusive, allowing us to see Rebecca, Marc and the others at their most vulnerable moments. Coppola gives the film a documentary style that actually reminded me of some of the best Christopher Guest films (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind). The main action of the film is often intercut with low quality footage of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan on the red carpet having their pictures taken while they pose seductively in dazzling outfits. It is the ideal that characters like Rebecca and Nicki have latched onto as the pinnacle of happiness: cameras flashing and strangers screaming your name. Everyone wants your attention, and you crave theirs. Cut together so aggressively, these celebrity clips feel so ugly and vapid that you can’t help but be turned off by them. It’s no coincidence that the film, and the characters, focus on celebrities that are mostly just famous for being famous. These girls (and eventually Marc, too) have no real desire to be in the entertainment business because of acting or singing; they’re in it for the fame and whatever it takes to achieve that is just part of the game.
Though the film’s main characters have a fascinating chemistry and relationship unseen in a good majority of films, it is Emma Watson as Nicki that really steals the show. Her accent may be spotty in places, but the character is such a over-the-top shell of a genuine person that the role almost calls for Watson to be all over the place. She is also the daughter of an equally loopy mother, played to over-the-top perfection by Leslie Mann, whose half-baked home schooling plan based on The Secret could almost be to blame for her daughter’s recklessness. In fact, the parents of the film are often left completely unaware about their children’s whereabouts, showing how drastically times have changed in the age of social media and technology. Even if the population keeps expanding, the world has become smaller than ever before with the various means with which we can instantaneously contact anyone from all over the world. There is a scene at about the midpoint of the film that puts everything into perspective for just what these characters are doing. It is the scene when Rebecca and Marc break into the house of The Hills star Audrina Patridge, which is filmed in one continuous shot from a distance. The camera slowly zooms in on Rebecca and Marc as scurry through the house with only the streets of LA making noise in the background. It is then that the full scope of what they’re doing feels thrilling and consequential, as if we really are watching these people break the law in front of our eyes.
While the film has an excellent grasp on its main thesis, and it is peppered with brilliant shots and scenes, there were some moments I found repetitive in ways that didn’t feel purposeful. There are numerous burglary scenes in the film’s lengthy middle portion and there isn’t anything new brought to the table with each passing conquest. On a related note, the film can also feel a bit empty in places, and though Coppola definitely crafted it that way on purpose, it doesn’t exactly leave the audience enraptured in the film from beginning to end as it should. Regardless, the film really nails the ending in such a fitting way with Nicki’s final line that genuinely encapsulates everything that’s wrong with this group of kids and that entire generation as a whole. Coppola is essentially asking us to follow and become engaged with the adventures of the bad guys here, presenting more of a cautionary tale of idealized fame gone bad than the archetypical fun heist film. The Bling Ring is a tale that has a few missteps along the way but it expertly forces the audience to carefully examine the psyche of a generation raised on a diet of Laguna Beach and Adderall.
MVP: Emma Watson
Adapted Screenplay: Sofia Coppola