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The Bling Ring

Sofia Coppola’s fact-based The Bling Ring continues the director’s interest in stories of young women on the cusp of something, whether it’s young love, a marriage breaking up, or adulthood itself. This time the teenage girls (and one gay male) are high schoolers in a comfortable part of Los Angeles who seem to have all the advantages despite parents who are unable to see their children as people. Yet despite a spirited and energetic cast led by Emma Watson there really isn’t much to these teens besides their obsession with celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan and the designer-drenched lifestyle that they live.

Our way into the story is Marc (Israel Broussard), a shy new student who is instantly adopted by Rebecca (Katie Chang) as a sort of confidant and mascot in one. Rebecca is into petty crime but soon escalates to burgling the homes of absent celebrities (after discovering online where they live) with Marc and her friends Nicki (Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and Chloe (Claire Julien) in tow. The group seems to have no trouble gaining access to the homes of their targets; in a detail that’s too good to be made up they get into Paris Hilton’s house because she has left a key under a doormat.  (Hilton appears in one shot in the film and allowed Coppola to film in her house.) The burglaries are presented first as extravagant, consumerist celebrations. Hilton’s home appears to be a maze of rooms that are little more than gaudily decorated warehouses for clothes and shoes, and Rebecca and the others luxuriate in the goods of their victims. As The Bling Ring progresses the burglaries become more rushed and greedy, one of the girls steals a rug to use as part of a decorating project. When Rebecca and Marc rob the home of Audrina Partridge, Coppola films the crime in one long, static shot. Watching two small people recently graduated from childhood scurry around the empty house does more than anything else to engender feeling for these characters, but it also points up just how silly these crimes are.

Indeed it’s the distance that Coppola keeps that is the biggest problem of The Bling Ring. She understands the need that Rebecca and the other girls feel to record themselves with Facebook selfies (some of which include stolen property) but doesn’t seem to have an opinion about it. Watson’s Nicki takes over the film as the girls become defendants, and Watson plays Nicki’s self-involvement to the hilt but Coppola doesn’t seem to want to have fun at the expense of Nicki or anyone else. The brisk The Bling Ring is worth watching but finally isn’t more than a curiosity on Coppola’s resume and perhaps a sign that she is ready to move on to deeper and different subjects in the future.

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