Tuesday, March 04, 2014

the bling ring

I finally got a chance to check out The Bling Ring, directed by Sofia Coppola. My first reaction was that it wasn't a good movie. Then, I wondered if the problem wasn't that it wasn't good, but that it wasn't nice. It certainly left a bad taste in the mouth. The move is a dramatization of the real-life escapades (based on a 2010 Vanity Fair article by Nacy Jo Sales, "The Suspects Wore Louboutins") of the eponymous group of high schoolers, who for a almost a year successfully waged a run of burglaries of rich and famous Los Angeles celebrity homes, including those of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Lindsay Lohan, and other young "It Girl" targets.

The kids strut their stuff - that they stole from the rich and famous (L-R: Taissa Farmiga, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Katie Chang, and Claire Julien)

The film focuses on the one male member of the group, Mark (Israel Broussard, based on Nick Prugo), a lonely isolated kid who has recently transferred to Indian Hills High School in Calabasas, California, or "Drop Out High" as a girl he meets, Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang, based on Rachel Lee) describes it. Mark and Rebecca quickly become friends, with the celebrity-obssessed Rebecca leading him around town, to various parties and to "check cars" — where they break into unlocked parked luxury cars and steal money, credit cards, and anything else they deem worth taking. What first seems as maybe not standard, but certainly not unknown teenage hijinks quickly escalates when Rebecca asks Mark if he knows anyone who is out of town. He does, and they break into his acquaintance's house where they find and take cash, an expensive handbag (It's a Birkin!") and the family's Porsche and go on a spending spree. Rebecca is soon asking Mark to see if he can tell her where her favorite stars live, and thanks to Google Earth and a little ingenuity they create their own robbery guide, a sort of warped mapping of stars' homes.

Rebecca and her friends Nicki (Emma Watson, based on Alexis Neiers) and her adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga, based on Tess Taylor) and Chloe (Claire Julien, based on Courtney Ames) are not just obsessed with young starlets, but fashion and all the latest accoutrements — the bling. They take endless selfies and party and party and party some more. Watson is especially good as a girl who is itching to shake up her life in any way possible. When prepping for another night out at a nightclub she tells her sister Sam in deadpan seriousness, "Your butt looks awesome!"

You can never take enough selfies

When they break into the homes of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, they don't just try on their clothes and jewelry; they try on their lifestyles, hanging out in their bedrooms and closets, and amusingly, at Hilton's house, in her "nightclub room." Hilton let Coppola film at her home in the actual rooms that were burgled, and no set designer could do a better job at depicting Young Hollywood excess if they tried.

In a documentary feature in the extras, "Scene of the Crime with Paris Hilton," Hilton speaks graciously of Coppola as she takes viewers on a tour of her house, lamenting how what the Bling Ring did was "Very wrong" and how many of the items that were stolen from her (the gang broke into her home on multiple occasions) were family items that will never be recovered. While it is impossible to side or sympathize with the Bling Ring and their actions, it is also equally as hard to connect with, or feel too badly for, their victims after viewing the conspicuous excess in their homes. Bloom's Rolex collection. Hilton's room full of shoes. Bags upon bags of never-worn designer duds strewn around Lohan's bedroom. Who needs all of this crap? The kids' values are undoubtedly completely skewed, but so are their victims'.

That's a lot of shoes, Paris

Partying in Paris Hilton's "nightclub room"

And what does Coppola have to say about these aspirational criminals? Not a heck of a lot. She lets her camera observe, with deadpan precision, the vapid lifestyles of the Valley kids and their prey (much as she luxuriated, from a distance, in the pretty surfaces and impending doom of her protagonist Marie Antoinette). The film shows the ease with which they break into homes and then post their loot on Facebook. The kids brag to all of their friends about how they "hung out at Paris Hilton's house" and try to sell some of the stolen goods, while keeping others. They are bored, drug-fueled, and aimless.

The Bling Ring does haunt one a little after viewing, but I suspect that has less to do with Coppola and more to do with the true story, which is aptly summarized in another extra on the disc, "Behind the Real Bling Ring," a 23-minute short documentary that is possibly more interesting than the feature. If anything, the movie makes one wonder about the national obsession with fame and wealth and ponder if it will ever abate. Coppola doesn't have much to say on that count, either. She inserts the obligatory shots of each member and their jail sentences (which she changes up from reality for the film) but doesn't seem too interested in what happened to the kids or where they are today. But viewers may be, and can check out their latest exploits via The Daily Beast.


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